By Rasha Almulaiki
As part of November’s National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we took a closer look at what was the scope of youth experiencing homelessness in Detroit, the factors that contribute to housing instability for young people, and the community organizations providing a stable environment for those without a sustainable living environment.
“There are many reasons why a young person is experiencing homelessness,” said Courtney Smith, founder and CEO of Detroit Phoenix Center. “We just came out of the greatest public health crisis in our country and so some young people may be experiencing homelessness alongside their parents due to the chronic disinvestment in our community’s low housing stock.”
Founded in 2017, Detroit Phoenix Center is a high impact nonprofit organization that serves 150 youth year round, providing resources and support to young people who are at risk or currently experiencing homelessness. The organization includes a drop-in center where youth can take a shower and wash their clothes, a food pantry and wrap-around support including mental health services and after-school programming.
Additionally, the Center provides emergency housing intervention through providing rooms at hotels and offering the first month’s rent and security deposits for young people in the community. Their community outreach and programming reach up to 1,200 youth per year.
“Other reasons young people can find themselves homeless include employment or financial reasons,” said Smith. “Many young people have also been impacted by the juvenile legal system or the foster care system where they have nowhere else to turn. They get pushed out of those systems without many other resources.”
According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, homelessness is defined as lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.
Homeless living situations can include sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; staying in emergency or transitional shelters; or sleeping in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations or similar settings.
According to a 2021 study by the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, nearly nine out of 10 unhoused Detroit students are not identified by schools.