Every community in southern and western Wayne County has homeless residents, according to Jane Scarlett, director of homeless programs with Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency in Wyandotte.
When those homeless people are youth, the situation is even scarier, she said.
“Developmentally, young adults and adolescents are not equipped to navigate an adult world,” Scarlett said. “Sometimes, their bravado is a defense to hide fear. Homelessness is frightening even for an adult. May runaways and homeless youth have been homeless with their families. Being alone and homeless is new to them.”
Wayne Metro, in partnership with other members of the Out Wayne County Homeless Services Coalition, has started a new outreach program for those homeless youth in the area served by the agency.
During the 2010-11 school year, about 1,600 youth from Wayne County (excluding the city of Detroit) were living “doubled up with another family; in a homeless shelter; or staying in cars, motels or on the streets,” according to Wayne Metro research.
Now, Wayne Metro is about ready to open its latest venture, called the YARD (Youth and Runaway Drop-in), which offers a safe place for youth from throughout the county ages 12-22 to get assistance and support, as well as food, clothing, laundry facilities and even a shower. Other communities across the out-county area are being informed about the center so they can refer kids in need.
“Kids can come here and know they will be in a safe space,” Scarlett said. “A safe space is an environment in which everyone feels comfortable in expressing themselves and participating fully, without fear of attack due to one’s race, gender, sexuality or ideology in general.”
The center, at 1638 Eureka in Wyandotte, will not serve as a medical facility or a shelter — no one will spend the night — but staff there can refer homeless youth to services they need, including transitional housing. The center will not be open to youth during school hours.
“The goal of our project is to reunify families and work with the kids regarding homeless and housing issues that are affecting them and their families of origin,” Scarlett said. “Their safety is paramount, and we’re dedicated to keeping kids securely attached to the education system that’s most appropriate to them.”
For a homeless teen, meeting basic needs can easily take priority over going to school, she said. Workers at The YARD want to help kids meet those needs and make sure they keep going to school.
Youth who drop into The YARD can get hygiene kits and food packs, and will have access to computers and the Internet to help them with homework and apply for jobs. They’ll be able to wash clothes and take a shower, if needed, and can meet other kids in similar circumstances for camaraderie, to know they’re not alone in their situation. Additional services, including employment assistance classes and health screenings, also will be available.
Trained adults, led by Homeless Youth Projects Coordinator Julie Davis, will always be on site.
“We’re going to learn as much from the kids are we’re going to offer them,” Scarlett said. “We’ll be advised by experts with our partners, those who have long-time experience, to mentor and guide us, including Team Mental Health, the Taylor Teen Health Center, Starfish Family Services, Covenant House of Michigan and all of the members of the Out Wayne County Homeless Services Coalition.”
The partners in the 28-member coalition, which was formed in 1996 and includes ChristNet, Vista Maria (based in Dearborn), First Step and the Downriver Community Conference, recognized a “gap in service” for the homeless youth population. Wayne Metro recently received funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration to create the homeless youth outreach program and the new center.
“Outreach services are currently under way, and a 24-hour crisis line has also been set up to increase access to supportive services,” Wayne Metro officials said. “Youth in crisis situations are encouraged to call the line at 734-400-3929.”
Wyandotte school district officials and the city’s Police Department have been kept in the loop about the new center, and are on board with the program, Scarlett said.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to provide these services to runaway and homeless youth,” said Louis Piszker, Wayne Metro's CEO. “There is a significant gap in services for runaway and homeless youth, and the agency’s YARD program is helping to remove obstacles to provide assistance.”
“Many, many people in out Wayne County are at risk of homelessness,” Scarlett said. “They’re one utility bill away, or one mortgage payment or one rent payment.”
According to state of Michigan data, the number of homeless students in Michigan has increased by as much as 50 percent every year since 2007.
To learn more about The YARD, to volunteer or to make donations of hygiene products, new men's socks (size large), new bath towels, laundry detergent and new underwear (adult sizes), call 313-410-1493.
An open house will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday so the community can tour the center and learn more about the programs offered there.