Stephanie Taylor always answers the phone – desktop and mobile, day and night.
As an outreach manager at Covenant House Michigan, a shelter for homeless youth, she’s seen it all — she knows how every second counts when a caller is in trouble.
So when a 23-year-old man called the facility earlier this week asking for accommodation, she immediately offered to pick him up.
“If you don’t have a car, you don’t have to take the bus,” Taylor told him. “That’s what we’re here for. We’ll pick you up so you don’t have to go through that.
“You would do that for me?” asked the man, incredulous.
Welcome to Covenant House, a non-profit organization that aims to help homeless youth aged 18-24 get back on their feet, regain their independence, and break out of the cycle of trauma that got them there. in the first place. Now in its 25th year, the organization has overcome obstacles, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and remains a lifeline for young adults who have nowhere to go.
Taylor has worked at Covenant House for 24 years. Her volume is always up – sometimes she gets calls from young adults needing help at 3 or 4 in the morning
If no one responds, the consequence could be disastrous.
Meanwhile, in an adjoining room, an 18-year-old boy is filling out his admission papers so he can begin his stay. He said his mother was struggling and he couldn’t stay with her anymore. He knows he can trust Covenant House because his older brother was staying at the shelter.
Both men remain anonymous to protect their privacy.
It’s Taylor’s day-to-day, and there’s nothing she’d rather do.
“A lot of (young adults) are so sad when they first arrive, and some of them are really grateful,” Taylor said. “And then we’ve had some who are mad at the world, even mad at us for what they’re going through, but we’re just here to try to break down all the barriers and let them know we care. always and that we want to try to help.”
Different from other shelters
Covenant House is an organization spread across the Americas, from Canada to Michigan to Honduras.
In Michigan specifically, there are two locations, one in Detroit and one in Grand Rapids. There are also three charter schools: one on the Detroit campus, one in southwest Detroit, and one in Grand Rapids.
“These schools were created specifically for homeless youth, to help them examine their needs and work with them at their level, eventually earning a high school diploma,” said Gerry Piro, Executive Director of Covenant. House Michigan. “It’s not just for kids anymore (in our program), it’s for anyone who wants to go to this school.”
The schools are smaller, with around 200 students overall, but that means teachers can focus on providing a personalized education for each student, Piro said.
When young adults first arrive at a Covenant House shelter, they take a COVID-19 test, shower, put on clean clothes and eat a hot meal, all provided by the shelter.
Then they head to the Crisis Care shelter. The shelter typically has 45 beds, but capacity is limited during the pandemic to protect residents’ health.
There is also the right of way shelter, where young adults move when they feel ready to make the transition to independent living. Here they receive job opportunities and budget advice.
Taylor said age restrictions help residents feel more comfortable because it can be difficult for an 18- or 20-year-old to feel safe and comfortable around older adults.
The Detroit campus has both shelters, as well as a school and dining hall on its grounds.
Piro said he often hears harmful and incorrect stereotypes about homeless people. Most of the time, it’s a direct result of their growing environment, he says.
“A lot of these young people who come here have aged out of foster care,” Piro said. “I’m sure almost every kid that’s come here probably had a tough time growing up, because a lot of times it’s ‘my mom got a new boyfriend, and he kicked me out.’ Either they didn’t know their parents, or if they did, then one of them was dead, or they couldn’t pay the person… no one chooses to be here unless they’re homeless, no matter what happened to him in his life.
Although the people who stay at Covenant House are legal adults and must be at least 18, they are still children, Piro said, and they want to work to change their lives.
“They come here to engage,” Piro said. “When they walk through our doors, they pledge to do their best to change their lives, to start becoming a member of society, a member ready to be educated, a ready to start working, and a ready to work on the problems they have.”
Covenant House has no shortage of success stories – young adults are coming in, graduating, finding jobs, learning to budget their money, saving for independent housing, and continuing to save and maintain an independent lifestyle.
But it’s not always so easy.
Sometimes people come to ask for help but aren’t quite ready to ask for it, Taylor said. Thus, they will use the resources without spending the night.
“Let’s say a young person doesn’t want to go to the shelter and they just want to come here, shower, eat and get clean clothes, we do that too,” she said. “And we give it to them because they don’t trust people right away. We don’t turn them down.”
Other times they have “regular customers,” Piro said. The young adults will leave the shelter with a job and a housing voucher, but they still need help to keep it. It’s not a bad thing if they come back, he said, because it means they’re still trying.
It can be hard to break the cycle, especially when housing instability is all they experienced growing up, Piro said.
“(Young adults) are like, ‘Where is my family? Why aren’t they here?’ “Piro sid. “There’s just no pattern. It’s hard to get them out of there and get them to focus on themselves. … They gather with the wrong crowd, they hang out in abandoned houses or abandoned cars. You know, we also get in housing, and they get coupons so for almost a year they don’t have to pay rent, but if they don’t follow the rules, they lose the housing.”
With COVID-19, the organization faced even more challenges, including staffing shortages. Every employee is forced to work longer hours and do more. Taylor said she added to her role of taking residents to doctor’s appointments and meeting their teachers.
But she’s happy to do it — she really doesn’t care about 3 a.m. calls or dates. She said she felt blessed to be able to do this job.
“We need to make sure we protect and protect all of our young people and remove all barriers,” Taylor said. “We want (them) to be comfortable, to know they’re going through something, but there are so many people around to look after them.
You can donate to Covenant House Michigan at https://covenanthousemi.org/donate/.
Contact Emma Stein: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @_emmastein.