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Campus of housing and resources seeks to end homelessness by prioritizing mental health

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Posted at 10:49 AM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 12:49:56-05

DETROIT, Mich. — Mental health care can be a major barrier stopping those experiencing homelessness from finding permanent housing.

A unique center in Detroit is making sure people can get healthy as they work towards having a place to call home. It’s a campus of housing and resources all located in one place meant to revitalize a struggling neighborhood and help the community grow with it.

“This is the east side of Detroit,” said Linda Little, CEO of the Neighborhood Service Organization behind the Detroit Healthy Housing Campus (DHHC). “It used to be a bustling neighborhood in its heyday. It has since become this neighborhood that has a lot of blight, but there's a lot of opportunity today.”

The $22 million center will provide resources for every step of a person’s journey in experiencing homelessness.

“This will be the first Healthy Housing Campus that we can find in our country,” said Little. “We're really excited to be here and be a part of the resurgence and renaissance of this community.”

The Detroit Healthy Housing Campus will take up nearly an entire city block. The goal: end homelessness in this community by offering a hospital, a shelter, a resource center, and permanent housing in one place.

Each stop on the campus will not only help people heal physically but mentally, too.

“Sixty to 80 percent of people who are homeless have some kind of mental health issue or a substance use disorder,” said Little. “We're like a safety net for vulnerable folks.”

The campus will hold an emergency shelter, but it will also have a medical respite space that will admit people physically well enough to go back on the streets more time to address their mental health in a safe place.

“Believe it or not, there was no place for the homeless to go upon discharge,” said Little. “If you're battling a mental health issue, it's difficult to think about things that may be most important for your physical health. And so that's why we want to, you know, provide that equity, meet people where they are.”

The campus also will hold a medical clinic, providing all kinds of medical services. Little said she is most excited for the mental health care services the clinic will provide. The clinic will be open to the entire community, not just those experiencing homelessness.

For those ready for the next step, the campus holds apartments for permanent housing.

Allah Young is now a resident in the Clay Apartments on the campus, but he was on the streets for three years. In that time, he slept in seven different shelters.

“I became involved in negative activity. You know, I had substance abuse issues,” said Young, a Detroit native. “I lost two houses in foreclosure because of my substance abuse and different issues. That’s what got me to the shelters.”

He struggled to get clean, quitting three separate times.

Now, he said he is grateful every day to have a shelter of his own.

“I always had a good attitude. I always believed that I was here for a reason,” said Young. “Every day right now, my resolve to live well.”

He said when he finally got help from the Neighborhood Service Organization for his mental health, that’s when he got clean for good.

“I was able to understand my deficiencies. I started doing the things that I was raised to do,” he said.

Young said he is hopeful this campus will give others that same resolve.

“The same way it has helped me, you know this Detroit Healthy Housing is going to help a lot of other people as well,” said Young.

Little said people have come from 10 states to get help from the Neighborhood Service Organization because no other states are doing anything like this yet.

“We had people as far as California come through Detroit,” she said.

She said this campus can provide an example of a different path for those struggling.

“Those who are in emergency shelter can see people who are housed right across the parking lot. That will give them hope. They can see it is possible. You can move from the streets and your current situation and live a better life," Little said.

One day, she hopes this solution can permanently get people off the streets across the country.

“Mental health is something that affects us all, and if we can reduce that stigma around mental health and make it a normal part of health care, then we can really effectuate change,” said Little.

If you’d like to learn more about the Neighborhood Service Organization and the Detroit Healthy Housing Campus, click HERE.