Photo by Sue Suchyta
Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency communications coordinator Erin Southward (left) and homeless youth projects coordinator Julie Davis sort through supplies donated to the Youth and Runaway Drop-in Center, or YARD, for hygiene kits.
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – When Nell, 18, of Canton, could not get to the Youth and Runaway Drop-in center in Wyandotte for help, they came to her.
“The workers here (at the YARD) listened to me,” said Nell, whose last name was omitted to protect her privacy per YARD policy. “I mattered to them. I couldn’t always make it to the YARD but they brought shampoo and stuff to me.”
Staff members at the YARD at 1638 Eureka Road. in Wyandotte find it challenging getting runaway, homeless and in-transition teens to the center.
“We are new to the street youth population so we are building our credibility with them,” Julie Davis, homeless youth projects coordinator, said. “It is important for us to show that we are a place they can trust.”
Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, a non-profit that helps low-income people outside of Detroit, recently opened the YARD as the third component of their in -transition teen outreach program. Staff members already canvas the streets with resource information and staff a 24-hour telephone crisis hotline.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. funds the program through its Administration for Children and Families division. Wayne Metro received approval for a three-year grant in November 2011, and moved into the YARD center on Eureka in the beginning of May.
YARD seeks to provide a safe place for youth ages 12 to 22 to receive assistance and support on-site. They also help teens find a place to live and medical care, which the YARD does not provide.
Erin Southward, Wayne Metro communications manager, said that during the 2010 to 2011 school year about 1,600 children age five to 18 years old lived doubled up with another family, in a homeless shelter, or in cars, hotels or on the streets.
Some of the teens are what Julie Davis, homeless youth projects coordinator, refers to as “couch-surfing youth,” staying with a friend’s family or someone they know in the community.
Davis said they recently began to focus on bringing resource information directly to runaway and homeless youth.
She said they have a street outreach team that goes out three times a week to places like parks and 24-hour businesses. They also work with area school staff in communities outside of Detroit to identify teens in transition situations.
Wayne Metro is also the lead agency in the Out-Wayne County Homeless Coalition, Southward said, a group of over 30 organizations and municipalities, who in turn help identify teens in need of outreach services.
One of the goals of the YARD is to give youth in transition a chance to get a break from a crowded or stressful living situation for a few hours.
Davis said that many teens living doubled- up with other families feel that they are a burden by eating, doing laundry and showering there. The YARD offers a washer and dryer, a shower and a hot meal so teens can feel less burdensome to the families sheltering them.
“The YARD staff (helped) me (get) my diploma while they fed me and let me wash my clothes,” Cory, 20, of Ecorse said.
In addition, the YARD offers clothing, job development, educational assistance, hygiene items, some school supplies and referrals for other types of help.
“I got to go shopping for my school stuff,” Billy, 13, of Taylor said. “They let me pick what I wanted.”
The YARD is open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. each Monday and Wednesday, and plans to offer more days and hours as the program expands.
Davis said that youth have not started using the YARD as quickly as they had hoped. She said their street outreach team has handed out 1,400 informational cards to teens in Wayne County outside of Detroit.
The few in-transition teens who have been to the YARD have responded positively, Davis said.
“The people who have been in have liked the space, they think it is a great space,” Davis said. “They like all of the services that they can get through here… It is a place where they can come and be them.”
Southward has met a few of the teens who have come to the YARD to use the facilities and to get away from their current living situation for a few hours. She said they also use one of the three computers in the lab there to do homework.
“It’s really been helpful for them,” Southward said. “There are a lot of different services; (we) can connect them to any other services that they need, like clothing or counseling, and stuff like that, so it’s a really good resource for them.”
The program started with low numbers, Davis said, because teens in transition often struggle to find transportation to the YARD.Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation buses stop near the YARD, but she said SMART bus service times are limited.
The staff at the YARD needs help getting teens to them, Davis said. They hope local schools will consider dropping teens off at the YARD after school. She said they would also like to have a van and drivers to bring in-transition teens to them.
“We are working with schools and other groups that work with youth to help build the relationships,” Davis said. “We are also working with other youth serving organizations to help get youth to the YARD.”
Reuniting families and moving homeless youth into safe and supportive housing ranks as the ultimate goal of their outreach, Davis said.
The YARD is accepting donations of hygiene products, new large-sized men’s socks, new bath towels, laundry detergent and new underwear in adult sizes.
For more information about the YARD, call 313-410-1493 or go to www.waynemetro.org. The crisis phone line is 313-400-3929.