Covenant House aims to help Michigan’s homeless youth

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Capital News Service

LANSING —  Shai, an 18-year-old from Detroit, is on her way to a local university after spending the last year homeless because her home life disintegrated. After her parents separated, her sister disappeared and Shai attempted suicide. 

Through it all, she fell back on her schooling — “No matter where we went, I always managed to stay in school, stay busy with work so that I can take care of myself” —  while the nonprofit Covenant House in Detroit offered a safe place to live and helped get her life back on track. 

DaShawn, an 18-year-old from Muskegon, was physically abused by his aunt and uncle who raised him because his biological parents were struggling with drug addiction. 

To escape the abuse, he lived with friends but was expelled in 10th grade. He then moved in with his mom until she was hospitalized for a meth overdose. 

Left alone again, he stayed at a Grand Rapids homeless shelter for a six-week youth program but returned to the streets with few options until he found help as one of the first residents at a new Covenant House shelter in Grand Rapids.

Covenant House takes only 14 men and women between 18 and 24. 

Now DeShawn, less than a year removed from attempting suicide, is thinking about a mechanical engineering career with a promising life to look forward too.

Shai and DeShawn’s stories aren’t unusual and represent only a fraction of the picture in the state, according to Ida Benson, the director of development and communication at Michigan Covenant House. 

Many young adults who come to Covenant House were dropped from the foster care system when they turned 18 or when their families kicked them out of their homes after identifying as LGBTQ, Benson said. 

About 33% of youths in foster care at age 17 in Michigan experienced at least one instance of homelessness by age 21, and young adults who identify as LGBTQ have a 120% higher risk of homelessness than heterosexual youth in the same age group, according to a report by the Michigan League for Public Policy. The league is a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization that promotes the interests of the economically disadvantaged.  

Covenant House in Grand Rapids is the only homeless shelter in Michigan that sets aside a space for homeless young adults 18 to 24. 

Kent County and 13 other West Michigan counties have over 1,000 unaccompanied young adults under 24, according to the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness.

“It is an incredible problem and there is a huge need for programs for the homeless youth in Michigan and Covenant House can only help so much,” said Benson. 

Number of Michigan homeless youth 24 and younger by region. Credit: Michigan League for Public Policy.

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