NSO breaks ground on Clay Center to end homelessness in Detroit

The former site of the Detroit Police Department’s 7th precinct, on Mack and Elmwood off Gratiot, sat vacant since the precinct closed in 2005 and was demolished in 2015. The site will have a new tenant in 2020, with the groundbreaking of the Neighborhood Service Organization’s (NSO) Clay Center, “a campus to end homelessness.”

Believed to be the first of its kind in the region, the Clay Center will follow the NSO’s consumers on their journey from homelessness, transitioning into shelters and temporary housing, to ultimately finding supportive housing. It will include life-changing wraparound services along with primary health care, mental health services, and other supportive services for people moving out of homelessness.

The more than three-acre campus with nearly 50,000-square-feet of clinic, housing, and support space will be self-sustaining through strategic built-in revenue streams. Dozens attended the ceremonial groundbreaking Friday morning, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield, NSO President and CEO Linda Little, and other dignitaries and community leaders.

“The face of homelessness has changed in Detroit. For nearly 65 years, the NSO has been a community-based organization that has been able to shift with the changing demands and needs of people and communities that we serve,” said Little, who said the city counted over 1,900 homeless people in January. “The Clay Center is another bold step for us to set a new bar for our approach to doing our part to end homelessness for those we serve and help them live to thrive. We not only want to provide housing, we want to provide tools, life skills, and services that will help to uplift the whole person in a sustainable way.”

In addition to shelter space and on-site health care, the campus will offer substance abuse treatment, job-readiness training and other amenities, such as a commercial kitchen, dining and laundry rooms, physical activity spaces and outdoor gardens for residents to enjoy and tend. The fully integrated health care center will be open to the public, creating access to primary and dental care, behavioral health, and pharmacy services for the community.

There will be a medical residence, which will enable homeless individuals who are stable and would otherwise be sent home to recuperate from the hospital, but who still require minor continuing care, to have a safe space to receive continuing medical treatment.

The shelter and service center offers space to temporarily house 56 single adults, as well as supportive services to help them transition back into permanent housing. The space is designed to allow for a transitional configuration that will permit bed availability to shift based on the needs of the community as demand for male/female beds change.

“Our city’s revitalization won’t mean much if those who struggle with homelessness aren’t made a priority,” said Mayor Duggan. “And when I became mayor, I said ‘we are going to have a city that values everybody.’ Like I do with everything, I dug into the numbers and we had 3,000 homeless people. And if we are not reducing homelessness in the city, what are we accomplishing?”

“Thanks to our partners at the Neighborhood Service Organization, we are seeing a $20 million investment in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood to provide permanent supportive housing and critical support services to our homeless population.”

Project construction first will commence on the two-story, 42-one-bedroom affordable housing unit, made possible by Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and the City of Detroit. The development partner is MHT Housing, Inc. Project architect is Fusco, Shaffer and Pappas Inc. Chase provided construction financing for the new housing.

The Clay Center sits directly across from Bethel Church of the Apostolic Faith, which has seen the ups and downs of the neighborhood since 1959. The church, led by Pastor John M. Lucas does its part by serving the homeless in the area of Mack and Mt. Elliott, offering bible study, food, and clothing through its “Feed My Sheep” program. The church plans to partner with the Clay Center once it opens.

“This center is paramount, because we see a lot of homeless and unfortunate people in this area,” said Lucas, who has led his congregation for the last 19 years. “We see those that are in need and I try to give them a word from the Lord, letting them know God is concerned about the holistic person, the spirit, soul, and body and we try to feed those things. God doesn’t heal the land until he heals the man, and I think Detroit is headed in the right direction simply because of the NSO.”

Project financials are being finalized and the NSO plans to officially kickoff its capital campaign in the weeks ahead. The Clay Center is named in honor of former NSO President and CEO Sheilah P. Clay, who retired in 2018. With the organization for nearly 22 years, including 18 years at the helm, Clay oversaw the $55 million conversion of the Bell Building into permanent, supportive housing for formerly homeless adults and into NSO’s headquarters.

She also saw current NSO Housing Supervisor David Tinsley turn his life around. After serving time in prison, Tinsley was released 11 years ago and could not find a job. He visited the NSO’s Tumaini Center to chat with Lewis Hickson, who inspired him to become a social worker. In 30 days, Tinsley was a peer aide; nine months later he came a peer specialist; 10 months after that, he received another promotion, eventually taking over Hickson’s former job as the operation’s manager. Tinsley obtained his master’s degree from Wayne State University and has been in his current role for 10 months. A job given to him by Sheliah P. Clay.

“That fact that all the doors were closed means that they were supposed to be closed,” said Tinsley. “I’m standing where I am now because I’m where I’m supposed to be. I have the opportunity to find the greatness in others and that is my life’s work. I don’t have a job anymore, I have a career. God bless the NSO.”

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