On Nov. 19, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Covenant House Michigan will hold its 12th annual Candlelight Vigil to bring attention to the estimated 5,000 homeless youth under 22 in Michigan.
The vigil will take place at its campus at 2959 Martin Luther King, at I-96; and will coincides with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Melissa Golpe, Covenant House Michigan’s marketing/PR director, said those who are on the street, whether they were kicked out of their homes or ran away, may be bouncing from one friend to another, or may be living in abandoned buildings or abandoned cars. Some end up having to sell themselves to survive.
Golpe said we need to do something as a community to help them.
The vigil will include testimonies by current and former Covenant House residents. There will also be a tour of the campus.
According to Golpe, Covenant House’s mission is based on love, respect and hope.
“Our mission is to make sure to safeguard and protect kids who come to us,” she said, adding that they weren’t receiving much respect in the situations they’d previously been in.
“They weren’t feeling loved; they were kind of forgotten,” she said. “So what we did was we take them in and we’re accepting them as they are, and we’re providing this unconditional love; and helping them with the tools they need so that they can become successful.”
Golpe said Covenant House Michigan provides such basic necessities as food, shelter and clothing; but also provides education, job development skills, and other such things that will help them move on to independence.
Covenant House Michigan not only helps the youngsters it works with to go on to college, or a job, or their own apartment, but also with reconciliation with their families, where possible.
The organization has two shelter programs: a crisis shelter, and a two-year transitional living program.
In the crisis center, the programs typically run for 90 days, but each person is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“Someone might be coming in with a mental health issue that is preventing them from being stable in an apartment,” Golpe said. “Some may be dealing with abuse, so they may need counseling. Someone may need their GED, so we get them working on their GED or back in high school.”
There are 45 residents, both male and female, aged 18-22 in the shelter program. Golpe said the men and women are housed on different wings, in dormitory settings, with three or four people to a room.
She said Covenant House is set up like a college campus. Residents first have breakfast, then they have chores, such as washing windows, keeping the bathrooms clean, and keeping their own rooms picked up. Those who are employed would then head off to work.
There’s also a high school on campus called the Covenant House Life Skills Center. Some residents might be attending it for four hours of the day, and trying to get their diploma.
After that, an individual might go on to a job club, where they learn how to look for a job, fill out an application, how to go on interviews, and how to keep a job after being hired.
From the crisis center, clients make the transfer to the transitional living program called Rights Passage, which has 30 residents.
“By this point, they’re typically in school, working, and learning how to manage themselves and saving up money, so that when they get out on their own, they have a bank of money to help them with first and last month’s rent, or maybe book expenses at school or whatever it may be,” Golpe said.
In addition to the education and job development programs, Covenant House also offers street outreach, which involves connecting to people in homeless situations or those who could become homeless.
Golpe said some people have left Covenant House, and through no fault of their own, ended up having to come back. One such person was Antione Foster, 20, who has been homeless on and off since his mother first kicked him out when he was 7. While homeless, he’s lived in both abandoned houses and drug houses.
Foster said Covenant House helped him get into a supportive education program at Wayne State University, which helps students get ready for college. It also helped him find a job through its job program.
After that, he got a place to stay, only to lose it about four months later when it was raided because his landlord had some $50,000 in drugs on him.
“They had to close down the whole site,” Foster said. “So I ended up coming here a second time.”
Foster, who is currently back in the shelter program, said Covenant House has helped him sign up for classes in criminal justice at Wayne State.
He admitted that at first he was sad that he’d lost his apartment.
“I’m used to having my own place and taking care of myself; being independent,” he said. “But they (Covenant House) welcomed me with open arms.”
A friend had suggested he go back to Covenant House after he’d lost his apartment. Initially, Foster didn’t want to go back to a shelter, but said his friend, who called the outreach team, helped him get his mind back on track.
Golpe said what would make the candlelight vigil a success is the number of people who’d come out and show their support. She also would like people to commit to helping to make a difference; and to go into the community and talk about the number of kids who are homeless.
CHM also will be accepting hats and gloves, toiletries and monetary donations at the vigil.
For more information, call (313) 463-2005 or visit www.covenanthousemi.org.