COTS CEO Helps Detroit Families Navigate Homelessness

The landscape of homelessness is changing thanks to one local CEO.

This year marks a 40-year milestone of COTS effectively supporting Detroit families, having influenced the lives of more than 50,000 people impacted by homelessness – many of them children.

“The impact upon thousands of lives over the past 40 years would not be possible without the hundreds of team members, thousands of volunteers, donors and so many others who have navigated these waters with us. We wouldn’t be here. We can’t support families alone. It truly takes a village – and we are grateful we have that village,” said Cheryl P. Johnson, CEO, COTS.

Starting this month, the human services organization kicks off a months long multi-media campaign, sharing inspirational stories of individuals who have overcome poverty, the successes they have achieved and evolution of COTS programming that helped consumers along their journeys. Stories will be told through videos on the organization’s website (, as well as through interviews on COTS’ own podcast, “The Art of Family,” available on many podcasting platforms.

The organization also will celebrate past successes and re-commit to creating more opportunities for Detroit families at an already sold-out event on Thursday, June 23, with donors, partners, volunteers and team members. The limited attendee event includes live entertainment, food from Detroit culinary experts, family testimonials, guided tours of the organization’s newly renovated Peterboro Arms Apartment Building – which serves as support housing, as well COTS’ administrative office and more.

Individuals interested in learning more about the work of COTS and touring the Peterboro Arms, while enjoying cupcakes, coffee and a conversation about helping families overcome poverty and homelessness, can register online at Space is limited. Tours will take place daily at 1 p.m. through Thursday, June 30, 2022. Spaces are limited.

In 1982, a coalition of partner organizations came together to create Coalition On Temporary Shelter (COTS) to offer support to Detroiters in need of shelter and to address homelessness in the city of Detroit. At inception, residents were often single men and single-parent families. Over time the residents COTS served diversified, and the organization evolved to meet the changing needs, expanding support for families and creating opportunities for them to succeed.

“Over the years, our focus has shifted from providing temporary solutions for homelessness to making long-term impacts to overcome generational poverty. We’ve transitioned from providing hope, help and housing alone to making intentional connections with a focus on partnership, mentorship and relationships,” reflected Johnson.

Through partnerships with donors, volunteers, corporations, organizations and the broader community at large, COTS opens doors to opportunities by providing coaching and mentorship to families. They then work together to build intentional and genuine relationships to explore the root causes of homelessness, increase social capital, discover strengths and support the establishment of goals that move families toward stability.

In 2021 alone, and serving 1,210 people in 462 families, COTS provided:

  • 52,415 nutritious meals
  • 40,212 nights of safe shelter
  • 1,925 hours of childcare provided
  • 152 Passport to Self-Sufficiency coaching events

In 2015, with the realization of poverty as the driver of homelessness that COTS needed to address, came their theory of change for disrupting generational poverty, the Passport to Self-Sufficiency. The Passport to Self-Sufficiency is a holistic approach assisting families in reaching their housing, economic, health, education and career goals through coaching, mentorship and support as they strive to overcome homelessness and to break the cycle of poverty for the next generation and beyond.

“Every family is unique and success for each family looks very different. Families drive those goals. We work with the whole family and build intentional relationships with the children. Coaching them just as we do with their parents, we open them to otherwise unavailable opportunities that help to broaden their horizons and allow them to see more of what is possible,” said Aisha Morrell-Ferguson, chief development officer, COTS.

Shameika Richardson was a young, single mother who found herself without a home for her and her daughter. She contacted COTS for help.

“When I was growing up, all I had been taught was that no one in this world cares about you, and you’re going to be out there, all alone, with nothing but struggles. [COTS’] Passport to Self-Sufficiency helped me figure things out about myself. It helped me overcome roadblocks and prepare for future challenges.”

Today Richardson is working on building her credit and obtaining a cosmetology license.

She added, “I have a beautiful home and my daughter is so comfortable there. I am in school and I work for an ambulance company. I’m learning to budget and make good financial decisions. . . The help doesn’t stop once you get a roof over your head. COTS cares about our entire well-being as a person.”

In December 2020, COTS reopened its 26 Peterboro Building as the newly renovated Peterboro Arms Apartments. This $17 million renovation created an affordable apartment community for families with 56 two- and three- bedroom apartment homes in the heart of Midtown Detroit. It also serves as the COTS administrative offices. COTS is proud to maintain this historic property, formerly the Hotel Imperial, and to offer this resource to families in a community rich with resources, such as health care centers; viable employment opportunities; healthy-living retailers; captivating arts, culture and entertainment venues; and even new modes of transportation.

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