Art becomes refugee’s refuge at Freedom House

Lately it seems as if news about Detroit has been dominated with stories of people who have a renewed interest in moving to the city. Between the Live Midtown and Live Downtown incentives, new renovations of the David Whitney and David Broderick towers, retail popping up and more, you might come to the conclusion that it’s a very recent trend. But Detroit has held an allure for much longer in the eyes of some less-than-usual suspects.

The Freedom House has been offering temporary homes to political refugees from around the world for almost thirty years. Homeless shelters were unable to accommodate the numbers of homeless refugees, so the group started off as the Detroit-Windsor Refugee Coalition, housed in St. Peters Episcopal Church in Corktown. But after a name change and some moving around, Freedom House is now located in St. Anne’s Convent in Southwest Detroit. Several refugees also spend their time on the YArts floor of the YMCA. There they can paint, make jewelry, get involved in theater arts and screen printing.  “It’s all a hope to be healing,” says John, a former refugee who now works with Freedom House, who found his own relief in painting and printing. One of his pieces hangs in the YArts printing room. He painted it shortly after arriving in Detroit, depicting a man on a thin branch above a crocodile. The imagery and symbolism are powerfully laconic.

While art at Freedom House starts as healing and hope, John has also helped Freedom House’s refugees secure paid jobs in printing. It’s in this vein that the organization helps its refugees — not just with emotional consolation and solidarity, but in every step of the transition to life in a new country. Refugees often show up exhausted, carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs. Freedom House doesn’t turn any eligible refugees away, so their basic needs are met immediately. From there, they can expect medical care, mental health care, education and job training, and legal services. Freedom House’s mission is to win all of their residents asylum– a legal immigration status for those who qualify as refugees but are already in the United States. The legal team tries to place their clients in the United States or Canada, and often reunite them with the families they sometimes have had to leave behind.

Compelling, right? Freedom House is looking for volunteers too. If you have professional skills that you’d like to offer, such as legal, health, or translation services, they’re in need of your help. If you’d like to organize activities, teach a class, be a driver, or help with repair or maintenance jobs, those opportunities are available too.

For more information or if you’d like to donate to or volunteer for Freedom House, visit their website at

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