On any given day, there are more than 5,000 homeless teenagers across our state, according to Covenant House Michigan. That means young adults living on the street, in cars, in abandoned houses, wherever they can, trying to survive.
On a typical Monday recently, I met a not-so-typical angel and her partner-in-help who spend part of everyday trying to impact these children. It doesn’t matter how they ended up without a safe and secure place to lay their heads, there is help available.
The faith-based organization offers young people between the ages of 13 and 22 food, clothing, temporary housing for up to 90 days and a chance, as they progress, to complete their education. It is really a chance at stability in an otherwise unstable existence.
Stephanie Taylor is manager of the non-profit’s Street Outreach Team. She has worked with the program for 14 years and has been out on the street five days a week since it started. Her partner/driver/protector Danny has been by her side for 13 of those years, starting when he was 20-years-old. His uncle worked with the homeless, too, in his younger days. It’s fair to say Danny is following in his uncle’s footsteps.
The National Center on Family Homelessness says there are several reasons a young person could end up homeless. One is financial hardship and the other is some issue (abuse, neglect or argument) with his or her family.
Before we even left the Covenant House grounds on my ride-a-long, Stephanie’s phone was blowing up. She received two calls to pick up teenagers who were ready to receive help. “We never force anyone to come in and get help. It could be weeks after we first talk to them that they actually call us to be picked up or reach out for food, clothing or shelter,” she added.
One of the calls was from a 20-year-old young man named Matthew. We made our way to the Eastside in the agency’s van to pick him up, first thinking we were going to simply take him back to Covenant House for shelter and a meal. Once we he got in the van and Stephanie began talking to him, she found he hadn’t eaten in days and had had a serious cough for more than a month. She also found out both of Matthew’s parents are deceased, both of his foster parents were deceased and last he heard from his only known relative, he was in an area hospital … somewhere.
What started out as a ride to home base at Covenant House turned into a stop at McDonald’s for a meal, phone calls to try to find the young man a place to stay (It turns out Matthew had assaulted staff and was not allowed back at Covenant House) and a visit to the hospital.
Although he couldn’t actually come to Covenant House for shelter, that didn’t stop Stephanie from going all out to get him help.“We never know what we might come across when we are out here,” she says. “I look at these kids as if they were my own children or family members. Then I think, what would I want someone to do for them if they were out on the street?”
A mother herself, Stephanie sees what she does as a ministry. She says she always starts and ends each four-hour shift with a prayer, asking for her own safety, for the kids they might run into and that they might be able to help in a real way.
To say Stephanie and Danny are fearless is the understatement of the decade. During my ride-a-long, we saw a young man walking down the street who looked to be a teenager or close enough. Not to stereotype, but the young man didn’t look like a choir boy.
Driver Danny pulled over, hailed the young man to the van and gave him an outreach card. “Hey man, we have services for you, if you need it. You don’t have to be out here like this.” The young man took the card, put it in his pocket and then disappeared down an alley towards a vacant house. Stephanie commented, “Good, maybe he’ll call us.”
Stephanie and Danny, along with another volunteer team are out on the street at least four hours every day. They reach out to anyone they see who even looks like he or she are in the target age group for services. “We don’t make any judgments or assumptions, we just offer help,” said Danny.
I asked how they manage to deal with what they see on a daily basis and not take it home with them. Stephanie says she leans on her faith and family. Danny said he appreciates his family even more and remembers every day to not take the little things for granted.
Funded almost completely by private donations, Covenant House Michigan is always looking for both support and volunteers. The organization estimates it has helped more than 57,000 young people since the Michigan version of Covenant House International was started back in 1997.
In addition to the assistance and outreach work, Covenant House also operates three charter high schools in metro Detroit and has plans to open a school in Grand Rapids to meet increasing need on the other side of the state.
If you’re interested in helping, you can advocate, volunteer or donate by calling (313) 463-2014 or by visiting their website.
The street Outreach team can’t reach all 5,000 teenagers every day, but as Stephanie puts it, “We can make a difference in Detroit and across the state if we take it one step at a time.”