We often don’t stop to think about how lucky we are to be living the lives we do. We are fortunate enough to have been born in a period of unprecedented advancement and, compared to times in our past, relative peace and security. But for the many things that are great about our world, it’s not perfect.
Some of the same problems that were present at the dawn of civilization still plague us. With more than enough space to live and the means to put an end to it, perhaps homelessness is the persistent problem that makes the least amount of sense. There are those out there who feel the same way and have devoted their lives to solving this problem…
Donald was a young man who had grown up in hardship. As a child, he never received the support he needed to advance in life, which isn’t much of a surprise, considering there was never any certainty about where the next meal would come from.
Gotta Get Out
As a consequence of the economic hardships, Donald was exposed to a lot of things that children from better-off families never have to deal with. “I was around people that did a whole bunch of illegal things and I didn’t want to be a part of it no more,” he said…
But being a teenager, Donald was unable to just get a job and move out. Still, he decided no situation could be worse than what he was currently going through so he decided to take action “I just left and started becoming homeless,” he said.
As you can imagine, being homeless is a terrible thing, especially for a young and vulnerable person. Living on the streets of Michigan, Donald was unable to sleep at night because it was too cold. Instead, he would walk the night and sleep for a few hours in some tucked away corner once the sun came up…
In order to feed himself, Donald had to rely on begging to get enough spare change for a meal. He would have liked to get a job but even if he could get past the problems of having no previous work experience and no address, no one would be willing to hire a dirty kid in raggedy clothes.
Worse for Youth
The problems of homelessness are even worse for a young person. Within 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 young homeless people are approached by a human trafficker and 20% will become a victim of violent crime. “There’s people out here who are homeless who’d literally rather be in jail than be homeless… it’s terrible,” Donald said…
Then one day, someone reached out to help. Donald met Stephanie Taylor and Marquise Williams of Covenant House Michigan. Covenant House was a non-profit shelter specifically for young people between the ages of 18 to 24.
Taylor had done outreach for Covenant House for the last 2 decades. The majority of her job is spent traveling the streets of Detroit in the organization’s minivan, reaching out to young people and teaching them about the shelter, letting them know that there’s help available to them if they need it…
Nowhere to Go
“Usually when young people are homeless and they don’t have anywhere to go, they might sin in emergency rooms,” said Taylor. “They might go there and play like they’re sick,” or sit inside train and bus stations, fast food restaurants, or coffee shops, “and things like that until they figure out what their next step is going to be.”
Sometimes, things are even worse than that. “Sometimes they’ll be at their so-called ‘boyfriend’s’ house” Taylor said. Those “boyfriends” would allow a vulnerable young homeless person to stay in their home in exchange for things, like performing sex acts, selling drugs, or working as a prostitute….
Trafficking and Abuse
For people in those sorts of situations, those exploited people are “not even considered homeless,” by themselves or by some organizations that help the homeless, said Taylor. “They’re thinking it’s love and it’s not. They’re being trafficked and they’re being abused and we see that.”
Heard From A Friend
Like so many of the other young people they’d helped before, Donald had heard about the Covenant House through a third party and called their number asking for help. Taylor and Williams got into their van and came to him right away. “Every day I think about the day they come and got me,” Donald said. “I’ll never regret that day.”…
Off the Streets
Thanks to Taylor and Williams’ efforts, Donald found a way off the streets and moved in to the shelter. For the first time in his life, he had a safe place to live and was afforded an opportunity to build a life.
“I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to sleep or when I”m going to eat or anything,” Donald said. “They have these groups and everything where you can talk and express how you feel. They help you with anything that’s on your mind.”…
Education and Training
On top of the counseling services, Covenant House offered educational programs for young people who needed to finish high school, vocational programs to teach job skills, as well as employment and interview classes to teach people, some of whom have never worked before, how to get — and keep — a job.
The classes — on top of having an address to put down on applications — worked like a wonder for Donald. Just a short time after he moved in to the Covenant House, he was able to get a job at the airport and began saving up so he could move out and get his own place…
Still Work To Be Done
While Donald’s story is one of success, there are plenty of people without homes, many of them young people, still in need of help. There are so many people currently homeless — or even at risk for homelessness without knowing it — that Taylor and Williams see no end to their work.
Living On The Edge
Homelessness can become a problem for young people who don’t even suspect it, Taylor said. “Sometimes our young people work and then they lose their job or they just don’t make enough to afford ‘affordable’ housing.”…
It Could Be Anyone
Taylor wants to emphasize that young people, people from any sort of background, can find themselves suddenly in need. “This could be your child. This could be your sister, your brother. And I tell people all the time we’re not immune from something happening to us. Who’s going to be out there to approach your kid if their family members turn their back on them?” he asked.
There is Help
Thankfully, people like Taylor, Williams and the other people of Covenant House are working hard to be there. If you or a young person you know is in need of help, please go to covenanthouse.org. If the person in need is older, please go to nationalhomeless.org.