Homelessness in Detroit: a big issue for a big city

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Homeless man standing on street in Detroit asking for money.

Kayla Hinton

Homeless man standing on street in Detroit asking for money.

DETROIT — Unfortunately, with big cities comes big issues. A large one the city of Detroit, Michigan faces is homelessness. According to Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) in the year 2015, 16,040 people were counted homeless in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck.

Organizations across Detroit are looking for ways like aspiration blinds to bring these numbers down, increase awareness, and identify solutions.

Associate Professor Angie Kennedy for the School of Social Work at Michigan State University breaks down the term homeless and the causes: “People who are homeless are a heterogeneous group that includes adolescents, families, and single adults; the causes of homelessness are diverse as well.

“For example, what causes homelessness among adolescents is different than what causes homelessness among adults who are veterans. Among adolescents and young adults, key causes include victimization at home and a critical lack of resources including financial, material, social support.”

There are many different reasons as to why someone is homeless and it is very diverse Kennedy says. Although a complex problem there are many things that can be done to improve on this issue.

“Reducing poverty, improving access to employment, providing supports for people struggling with homelessness,” are just a few out of the many Kennedy states.

Detroit is a large target for homelessness and these reasons may vary but for the most part Kennedy says it’s because of, “high rates of poverty, low access of employment opportunities, and lack of resources to provide supports to people struggling with homelessness.”

Latasha Little enjoying her food provided by Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS). Photo by Kayla Hinton.

Latasha Little is experienced when it comes to shelters and living on the streets. Little talks about what life is like when you’re homeless in Detroit. She says both of her parents are deceased along with her grandparents, leaving no family support for Little and her two children. Little says she wants to see a change in Detroit on the issue with homelessness.

Little took an available spot with her 19-year old daughter at Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS). This shelter in Detroit provides families a room, food, and career counseling. A day in her life she says is, “I wake up at 6 am eat breakfast and I’m out the door by 8. If I don’t have an appointment scheduled I’m filling out job applications, I also link up with my recovery specialist and career specialist.”

Little says this shelter is different from other ones she has been to. “Tons of resources, get services you need, hygiene products and your own personal space.” Other shelters in her opinion need health inspectors, equal treatment, and more use of adequate space.

Little’s advice to other homeless people is finding that support system you need whether it’s from family, friends or a great shelter. “I never gave up, that’s all I can say,” Little adds.

Kathy Thompson who is lead cook at COTS does not look at the homeless like another statistic or a nuisance but like her family. “Being a worker here gives me a sense of taking care of my family, a mother image,” Thompson says.

COTS currently have around 138 residents. Thompson says, “you do your job they’ll get you into a place,” when speaking about why these lucky 138 have this shelter to turn to. COTS who is the same shelter that helped Latasha Little have also been helping the city since 1982, providing shelter, opportunities and programs to the most vulnerable members of Detroit.

Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) location. Photo by Kayla Hinton.

Thompson says, “people from the city need to understand you and I are just one paycheck away from being homeless, so have compassion for these people.”

An organization and a city that clearly means the world to Thompson she wants others to understand that these people are human too and they need your help. “I treat these people like my family, if they have questions or need a hug I do it,” Thompson says when talking about how easy it is to let your guard down in this line of work.

COTS and other shelters are very dependent on volunteers and donations. Thompson says businesses like Quicken Loans and Whole Foods Markets are always donating and making a difference in the Detroit Community. People from churches, students for community service, and just people who want to help are what drive this city forward and are the reason Detroit is one step closer to resolving homelessness, says Thompson.

Alexandra Szakaly volunteers regularly through COTS and other Detroit shelters. She works for Quicken Loans a large company in Detroit who encourage their workers to volunteer to make a better Detroit.

“I love it, I feel like I’m actually giving back and can see it rather than other places where you are behind the scenes.” Szakaly says when talking about volunteering.

Volunteer hard at work for the homeless. Photo by Kayla Hinton.

Szakaly would also like to see some changes made in Detroit over this issue. She says accessibility and visibility would be a great addition to the city in helping homeless. She feels many people don’t know how to donate or get involved and providing more information on that would be very helpful.

Anyone can be a volunteer and make a difference within the community. With over 43 shelters in the city of Detroit alone, a difference can be made. Organizations like HAND, Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness (MCAH), Project Homeless Connect (PHC) and many, many more are the future to this cause.

Map snapshot of shelters located within the city of Detroit. Information Google Maps picture Kayla Hinton.