DETROIT — So many individuals and families are an incident away from being homeless in Detroit. So often as is the case, families are short on rent payments, they have suffered a home fire or a variety of other life scenarios leave people in the potential situation of being displaced.
As the colder winter season approaches, people put into these particular situations are presented with a harsh life reality.
One might assume having shelter availability would help eradicate homeless individuals in a community, but it’s not the overriding solution, according to Aisha Morrell-Ferguson, chief development officer at COTS, a non-profit community organization helping families overcome homelessness and poverty.
“Shelter is a band-aid, and while we’re happy to be here and serve in those moments where that is a need, we’re focused on trying to find long-term solutions to find stability,” said Morrell-Ferguson. “This points to a bigger problem of not having enough affordable housing for people that [suffer from] housing instability.”
The median Detroit rent for an average apartment size of 796 square feet is $1,163, according to Rent Café. Fifty-three percent of the city’s housing units are owner-occupied, compared to 46 percent of Detroiters who rent. The price of rent has trended slightly upward in Detroit over the past two years, but is still below the national average. The uptick is still a problem for some low-income Detroiters who are being priced out and falling victim to being homeless.
But there appears to be universal efforts to approach long-term solutions to homelessness in the community.
The City of Detroit and the Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) unveiled the opening of Clay Apartments last year, a new building development completed to provide permanent housing and additional wraparound services to address the economic, health and social barriers to stability.
“The Clay Apartments is a critical step toward addressing the healthy housing needs in the Detroit community,” said Linda Little, president and CEO of NSO. “COVID-19 has only illuminated the heightened vulnerability of our community members, how housing insecurity can affect everyday people, and the deep inequities in access to health care and housing. This Healthy Housing Campus completely reimagines the approach to address homelessness and provides an opportunity for the community to support this transformative solution for Detroiters. Addressing health and social inequities for some of Detroit’s most vulnerable populations makes us all stronger.”
For the operation of services at COTS, creating partnerships is crucial to ending the cycle of generational poverty where children once housed at COTS with their parents returned years later as adults seeking shelter and housing services.
“We’ve established a Passport to Self-Sufficiency, …because we’re great at helping people identify and establish housing, but if they’re not staying there and if that cycle is not being broken for the next generation, then the problem continues to persist,” said Morrell-Ferguson. “Our mission has transitioned and it’s to facilitate opportunities that empower families in poverty to thrive and succeed in building strong households.”
She believes it’s going to take a collaborative effort to make it all happen. COTS partners with more than 50 organizations in the area of housing, health and well-being, financial mobility, education and job training, as well as career development.
Chronic homelessness in Detroit and low-income residents being displaced is a problem and an issue city leaders have attempted to address. In September 2020, city officials announced the Detroit Housing for the Future Fund. It’s comprised of private investments that will be go into affordable housing development and preservation in Detroit.
“If you want to hold rent low enough that people of low income can afford it but your housing costs to build are the same as every place else, you lose money,” Mayor Duggan said at the time in a report by WDIV-TV. “Nobody is going to build apartment units where the cost of building is more than they get back.”
Progress includes striving to achieve stability such as obtaining a social security card to now apply for a job, secure a driver’s license to erase a transportation barrier, are some of the services, resources and successes that COTS celebrates – universal efforts in wraparound support to help families find permanent solutions to homelessness.
“We’re encouraging families to not give up, we’re telling them to believe in themselves, we’re encouraging the kids to not stop dreaming despite their circumstances …Success is not just getting families off the street and sheltered; success is engaging with them further to create poverty resistant families in Detroit.”