Construction, Nonprofits, and Real Estate

Youth shelters growing to meet demand

Covenant House Michigan to break ground on new 15,000-square-foot building this summer.

March 17, 2017
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Covenant House
The 15,000-square-foot youth shelter covers three floors and offers separate accommodations for males and females, as well as a lounge, café and cyber stations. Courtesy Covenant House

Over the past few years, Grand Rapids has seen an increase in efforts to help an often over-looked homeless population: youth.

Several organizations are adding or increasing services to help homeless youth with the unique challenges they face.

One of the newest projects is the Covenant House Michigan - Grand Rapids (CHMGR) youth shelter

The new three-story, 15,000-square-foot youth shelter received the green light in January from the city of Grand Rapids to move forward with construction.

The faith-based nonprofit Covenant House Michigan is behind the project, which will be built next to Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids, 50 Antoine St. SW, also operated by the organization.

The shelter is expected to break ground this summer and be operational by early next year.

Pam Spaeth, director at CHMGR, said the shelter will serve up to 28 people at a time, ages 18-24, all of whom will receive a private room during their stay at the shelter.

There will be 14 rooms on one floor reserved for females and 14 rooms on another floor reserved for males.

Spaeth said the first floor will be dedicated to programming and the second and third floors will have a lounge, café, cyber stations, private rooms and bathroom suites.

“This building is built with the intent and utmost respect for homeless youth who enter our program,” Spaeth said.

The goal of the shelter is not just to provide a safe space for youth to spend their nights but also to address physical and mental health issues, employment barriers and, ultimately, to help them find housing at the conclusion of the 90-day program.

CHMGR is partnering with area transitional housing providers 3:11 Youth Housing, Bethany Christian Services and Inner City Christian Federation.

“We will be partnering with them to be able to place our residents into transitional housing through their programs,” Spaeth said.

Spaeth said the need for a homeless youth shelter in Grand Rapids is high.

A 2016 Data Collection Study report found over 200 youth are on the streets on any given night in Grand Rapids, and approximately 18 percent of youth have been homeless more than six times.

“We have over 250 students at our school and 25 percent of them have self-identified as homeless,” Spaeth said.

She said homeless youth are often overlooked because they are less likely to spend their days or nights congregating on city streets or other places where adults who are homeless tend to go.

“They don’t congregate like the adults do,” she said. “They pool their money for a hotel room or find couches to sleep on. They are very resourceful.”

CHMGR is part of Covenant House International, a youth shelter program, which Gerry Piro, executive director of CHM, said is the “largest in North America.”

“When someone comes through our doors, or we pick someone up on our outreach rides, they are coming into a program. It’s not just coming in for a night or two,” Piro said. “The goal is to end homelessness, so we have services that are directly addressing finding housing, work and educational services for them.”

Covenant House operates a shelter in Detroit, which Piro said is similar to what is being built in Grand Rapids, though larger.

He said that shelter has proven very successful at moving youth into stable housing.

“In Detroit, we had 117 youth return to permanent housing between July 2016 to today, and we had a total of 261 residents,” he said.

Piro said young people become homeless for a variety of reasons.

“Some of the key reasons these young people end up in homelessness is a loss of the home, the family splits apart and they are left on their own to fend for themselves. A significant number of homeless youth are from the LGBTQ community, and certainly, we are partnering with HQ to try and address that situation. Mental health issues are also a big part of how young people end up in homelessness, and that is a big contributor we try to address. You do have young girls who end up in a pregnancy situation and are kicked out of their home. Substance abuse also.

“Another feeder is those coming out of foster care. We get a large number of young people who at 18 are kicked out of foster care and don’t know how to live on their own.”

Adrienne Goodstal, vice president of programs at Mel Trotter, said more beds for homeless youth are needed in Grand Rapids.

Mel Trotter opened its own youth shelter last year in February. The Y.E.S. Shelter is an emergency shelter program that provides beds for up to nine males, ages 18 to 24, for stays of up to 21 nights at a time.

“I think just the fact we’ve been full shows the need,” she said. “We started off as a six-bed capacity and quickly increased it to nine and the need is still there, so we are happy that Covenant Academy is coming on board.”

Goodstal said Mel Trotter launched its shelter after it realized young adult males were not accessing its adult male shelter.

“We consulted with HQ (a drop-in daytime shelter for homeless youth), and they went out and did surveys with the youth they encounter through their services and we were able to determine they weren’t accessing the shelter because it wasn’t safe and welcoming for them. They were putting themselves in maybe even worse situations than coming into our main shelter.”

Mel Trotter converted existing shelter space within its building to create the Y.E.S. Shelter, which is completely separate from the main shelter.

“It has a separate entrance and living quarters and a separate sleeping area and bathroom. It’s completely away from the men’s shelter,” Goodstal said.

“Our goal while they are here is to build relationships with them and, if they desire, to try to get them into our job readiness or our housing readiness program if they are already working,” Goodstal said. “Then we just transition them right from the youth shelter into that program, so they don’t have to access the main emergency shelter at all.”

The Y.E.S. Shelter works closely with HQ and Arbor Circle, which provide additional support, such as case managers.

“They are helping them to try and locate housing,” Goodstal said.

If a shelter resident transitions into one of Mel Trotter’s programs, they are assigned an advocate through Mel Trotter to help them find housing and employment.

Goodstal said after a full year in operation, Mel Trotter has identified the need for a full-time youth advocate as vital to operating the Y.E.S. Shelter.

She said the feedback from the young men who have stayed at the Y.E.S. Shelter has been positive.

“Youth have pretty much stated they felt safe and welcomed and had their needs met,” she said.

In the first year, the Y.E.S. Shelter has housed 90 young men, 24 of which have entered Mel Trotter’s job readiness program and 10 have moved into housing.

Goodstal said the need for emergency and longer-term shelter options, as well as temporary and long-term housing, continues and can be more challenging for young people.

“Homeless youth are one of the fastest-growing homeless populations — youth and families. We are seeing a rise in numbers. A lot of that has to do with affordable housing,” she said.

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