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Detroit youth share vision for $5.7M grant to address homelessness, housing instability

Detroit Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) Staff and Youth Action Board members at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center for Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon on June 9, 2023. (Photos by Nina Williams)

By Poverty Solutions Youth Communications Fellow Nina Williams

On June 9, the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) Celebration Luncheon was held at the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center in Detroit. The celebration was hosted to share an update on how $5.7 million granted to the City of Detroit for youth experiencing housing instabilities has been allocated so far. On this day, five members of the Detroit Phoenix Center Youth Action Board shared their stories of what it was like to experience housing instabilities at a young age and how they’ve overcome their challenges to now become the young leaders for others who have gone through similar situations.

Youth homelessness in Detroit

Between 11-16% of Detroit K-12 students faced homelessness or housing instability in 2021-22, according to a new study from Wayne State University College of Education’s Detroit Partnership for Education Equity & Research (Detroit PEER) in partnership with University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions.

In July of 2021, Detroit Continuum of Care applied for the federal Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) grant to support a coordinated community approach to preventing and ending youth homelessness. In September 2021, Detroit was selected to receive $5.7 million, which led the community into a coordinated planning process. The mission and vision of youth and young adults centers around collective efforts toward building an equitable and inclusive community where youth and young adults of all backgrounds (LGBTQ+ and BIPOC, parenting, etc) have a support system during housing instability crises. To achieve this goal, the program is now focusing on improving permanent housing systems, creating access to rapid rehousing assistance for youth, and building responsive mental health services in Detroit. The luncheon celebrated the hard work of the board members to turn their vision into a reality.

Detroit Phoenix Center staff and Youth Action Board members gather at Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center on June 9, 2023.

The Detroit Phoenix Center is a nonprofit organization that responds to the needs of underserved and street-connected youth in Detroit. In this organization, the Youth Action Board (YAB) helps instill leadership and direction into programs being implemented at the Detroit Phoenix Center and in the community of Detroit. At this celebration, Azaria Terrell, Armani Arnold, Amber Mattews, Ajanae Robinson, and Keyanna Evans told their stories of what it means to be a leader for others at the Detroit Phoenix Center. These youth supported the grant funding process from the very beginning and will continue to support the progress of instilling youth-led projects into the city of Detroit.

(From left to right) Ajanae Robinson, Armani Arnold, Amber Mathews, and Azaria Terrell at Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon (YHDP) at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center on June 9, 2023.

A central part of the YHDP grant is that it is youth-led and centers youth experience and expertise. During this luncheon, each of the youth were allowed time to share their experiences with one another. This panel allowed for bonds to be shaped among adults and youth going through housing instabilities, clarity in understanding how adults can help youth, and hearing the voices of youth who have prevailed to become leaders of those who have gone through similar experiences.

While many would believe that most of the actions being created through the process was done by adults, it was actually youth who have been involved in every step of the way. Each of these youth have spoken their mind, incorporated their ideas and told the city of Detroit what they can do to better provide for youth going through housing insecurities.

Learning from youth leaders

To support youth in their vision for ending homelessness, U-M’s Poverty Solutions has been collaborating with the Detroit Phoenix Center to support youth-led communications projects focused on the change youth want to see in their communities. As a part of this ongoing work, Poverty Solutions’ Youth Communications Fellow Nina Williams asked the Youth Advisory Board members about their thoughts on youth homelessness and their roles in leadership. The fellowship, which is supported by the McGregor Fund, aims to amplify youth voices in conversations about homelessness in Detroit.

Williams: What has being a part of the decision making process been like for you in terms of helping make decisions for future generations who may be going through housing instabilities?

Ajanae Robinson

Ajanae Robinson: For me, this process has been nothing short of amazing, honestly, for the past two years. We spent (time) doing a lot of strategic planning, with key decision making, with the budget that we were granted from the city of Detroit, $6 million. We’ve been able to use this time to make key decisions and also pick our sub recipients who will be given the money from the budget. So we’ve been doing a bit of the administrative task and the background work of formulating what the project will look like, what it will tell, and how it is to service each nonprofit organization.

Williams: What is it like being a youth leader in your sector and do you have any advice for future leaders?

YAB members and speaker Azaria Terrell at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center on June 9, 2023.

Azaria Terrell: Being a youth leader, it’s very amazing cause you just continue to just learn more about yourself, more about the world, your community. Being a youth leader is even better cause you get to watch these youth grow into their leadership positions. Something I would say to incoming youth leaders (is) … never be afraid to take time for yourself, never. Your mental health is the most important. And then, just be prepared and excited for the change that you’re gonna make in your community and the change you’re gonna see in yourself.

Williams: What are some misconceptions about youth homelessness? What do you wish people knew?

Amber Mathews: We are not lazy. We do not all have behavior problems. There are so many different things that factor into youth homelessness and I’m so tired of the stigma being that “they are lazy, they don’t listen, they have behavior problems.” That is not true. … They got so much fire in them to change what’s going on but nobody wanted to listen to them.

Williams: How have you grown or changed through your work with YHDP?

Keyanna Evans: I’ve grown in patience and experience in collaboration. Realizing that we are all here with the same goal in the end has shown me that wholesome work like this comes with great effort and patience.

Armani Arnold

Williams: What do you think is the vision for ending youth homelessness?

Armani Arnold: We’re getting close to figuring out how we can help, what ways we can tackle to assist with the stereotype barriers around youth homelessness. Cause it’s more than just not having a home and a place to stay at.


People gathering at the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center at Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon (YHDP) on June 9, 2023.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the entity that applied for the federal Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program grant.