Homelessness: The Human Experience

Frankie Piccirilli, Starkela Lloyd and Jessica West
Frankie Piccirilli, Starkela Lloyd and Jessica West

On any given night, there are more than 16,000 homeless in Detroit, one-third of these are children, according to the Coalition of Temporary Shelter (COTS).
For more than 30 years, COTS has served the most vulnerable in our community. The shelter operates at capacity throughout the year, offering programs and providing services for more than 800 men, women and children daily.
On Wednesday, Oct. 28, at 8:00 am COTS will hold its 5th Annual Leading Ladies Breakfast at Eastern Market. The breakfast is being held to celebrate COTS’ accomplishments and share their vision for helping families on their journey to self-sufficiency. Carol Goss, former CEO of The Skillman Foundation, will  co-chair the event and is very dedicated to the mission at hand.
“I’ve been involved in this work all my life. We want to help women to become self-sufficient, to live their lives in a way that is wonderful for them and to help them raise their children to become wonderful adults,” said Goss.
Frankie Piccirilli, chief development officer for COTS, is passionate about the work that she does. As Piccirilli faces the staggering statistics of homelessness in Detroit — approximately 20,000 homeless people and only about 2,000 shelter beds — she remains optimistic.
“I am a big fan of Mother Theresa and I truly believe that if you are the voice for one you become the voice of many,” Piccirilli said. “It is tough when you only look at the statistics but looking at stats and having an actual conversation with these women makes a difference in how I view my job. Viewing these families as people and not a number allows me to push harder and keep going despite what the statistics say.”
The face of homelessness is ever changing, as there are quite a few young adults who find themselves without adequate shelter.
Jessica West, 22, now resides at COTS with her husband and three children.
Originally from Denver, West came to Detroit with her husband seeking a better life but found that things were not as promising as they seemed.
“I came to Detroit in May. My husband is originally from here so we moved here for our children to be close to his family. However, when I got here things were different than I imagined,” said West. “I was eight months pregnant which made it difficult to find a job and the people we were living with weren’t really sympathetic to our situation and we were told to leave.”
That’s when West and her family began sleeping in their car.
Stories like this are becoming more and more common.
Young people, striking out on their own trying to make a life for themselves only to encounter challenges and obstacles along the way. Many are able to overcome the challenges and forge ahead but some, like West, have circumstances at play that make it difficult to get a grip.
“Being homeless at such a young age has been hard because all this time I felt like I was my own adult. When I realized I needed help and there was none within my family, it really brought me down. My husband and I don’t have alcohol or drug problems. We just thought we had support here and we didn’t,” said West. “But COTS has been very helpful to me. They are helping me and my family to get into a position where we can live on our own. I just started a job and am looking forward to getting a home for my children, soon!”
Children who reside at COTS
Children who reside at COTS

While the reasons for homelessness vary from one person to the next, studies show that domestic violence is the immediate cause of homelessness for many women. Survivors of domestic violence are often isolated from support networks and financial resources by their abuser, which puts them at risk of becoming homeless.
That was the case for 28-year-old Starkela Lloyd.IMG_0059
“I was in an abusive relationship with my daughter’s father and this relationship was so damaging to me that I became an alcoholic. I was at a point where I wanted to escape him but did not have the means or confidence so drinking became my escape,” she said.
As Lloyd’s drinking increased so did the violence and one day she decided enough was enough.
“One night we had a very big fight and my 4-year old daughter was right there screaming at the top of her lungs for us to stop. That was a turning point for me and that’s when I decided that I needed to get my life together. I realized that I was drinking all the time because I did not want the life I was living but I wasn’t strong enough to do something about it. The mental and physical abuse I was experiencing on a daily basis made it hard to envision a better day.”
However, even after having that moment of clarity, Lloyd was still hesitant about going to a homeless shelter.
“Ending up in COTS was something I never thought would happen to me,” she said. “I thought ‘me, homeless? Oh no, not me. I’m not one of those people,’ But I’ve learned that you can never say where you won’t be because it only takes one situation to become homeless.”
Leaving the  abusive relationship for a safer environment at COTS did not immediately solve Lloyd’s problem.
“My first two months there, I was down and depressed,” she recalled. “I turned back to alcohol. I would leave the shelter in the morning, go stand on the corner and drink. Then one day a counselor from COTS came up to me and said ‘you are going to stop standing on this corner drinking. You are going to so something with yourself. And go comb your hair!’”
That was almost three years ago. Today Lloyd is gainfully employed and self-sufficient, living on her own with her young daughter. A magnetic woman with a smile that lights up the room, you can feel resilience radiating from Lloyd. She has shown exceptional promise and has even discovered a talent for public speaking during her time at COTS.
Further proof of her development and talents are evident in her appointment to co-chair of the Leading Ladies Breakfast alongside Carol Goss. Lloyd has also been asked to attend various events and share her story and an encouraging word.
“Knowing that one day I can make a difference to the women in this shelter and possibly change someone’s life and be a voice has given me my purpose,” she said. “So that is why I speak and share my story”
“We felt Star was the perfect choice to co-chair the breakfast because she is dynamic. She is strong, fearless and just draws you in when she speaks. People really take to her and they have someone to identify with,” said Piccirrilli.
Putting a face to homelessness is important but it is also important to realize that that face is ever-changing for a myriad of reasons. As the old saying goes: there but for the grace of God go I. With so many in our community being classified as the “working poor,” the threat of homelessness is not exclusive to any one group of people. It looms over the heads of many.
As Piccirilli stated, “There are a lot of us who are one illness, one death, one flat tire, one paycheck away from homelessness. It really could happen to any one of us. It’s the human experience,” said Piccirrilli.
To meet the women featured in this article and to learn share how COTS’ structure has changed to help families overcome poverty through the Passport to Self-Sufficiency framework, please visit www.cotsdetroit.org and purchase your ticket to get a seat at the table.
Your presence and support will help families establish housing, embrace education, employment, health and well- being, and change the course for a better future as they seek to permanently eradicate poverty from their households.
Patreice A. Massey is a staff writer for the Michigan Chronicle and can be reached (313) 963-5522, ext 266, or email at pmassey@realtimesmedia.com.

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