The Shelter Association is unique in the way we respond to homelessness in Washtenaw County. Our focus is on ending homelessness rather than stabilizing it. Everything we do focuses on helping people move from homelessness into permanent housing as quickly as possible while addressing any ongoing needs they may have.
Our comprehensive services assist clients in ending their homelessness and are available to any individual adult experiencing homelessness.
Client Success Stories
The pain and trauma Tammy experienced throughout her childhood followed her into adulthood, paralyzing her emotionally and physically, resulting in a lifetime of long-term negative effects, choices and scars. These lingering emotions affected her thoughts, relationships, belief systems and abilities to trust and rely on anyone. This caused her to shut down emotionally and exhibit increased aggressive and defensive behaviors. Without knowing how to process her emotions and without healthy relationships in her life, Tammy lacked the skill sets needed to problem solve and manage stress, stunting her cognitive maturity. Lacking such skills put her at higher risk for depression, anxiety and addiction. Addiction became her coping mechanism, addiction numbed her pain, addiction took her on a downward spiral that took her over 30 years to recover from. When Tammy was found guilty of a felony and sent to prison for 10 months, she thought her life was over. Family members stopped talking to her, friends showed their true colors and stopped visiting her. She lost her job of twenty years as a Phlebotomist; she lost her home and all of her belongings. Fortuitously, for all she lost, she found her sobriety. Her sobriety led her down a path of new beginnings, new opportunities and a fresh start that she believes she never would have been afforded otherwise. A series of unfortunate events finally displayed its silver lining. “Sobriety delivered everything alcohol promised.” After leaving prison, Tammy found herself homeless and alone. While the relationships with her daughter and son-in-law were deeply troubled, they told her about the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. Once her intake process was complete, Tammy was assigned to work with Derek, a Treatment Specialist Case Manager. Derek quickly assessed that Tammy needed immediate shelter despite the Residential Program being full. Tammy was terrified of the threats living on the streets might do to her sobriety. Wanting to ensure Tammy remain clean and sober, Derek enrolled her in SAWC’s Pathways Program. Pathways is a treatment referral resource for those working to recover from substance abuse that provides individuals with a positive support system and immediate, temporary shelter. While the program’s offering of a simple sleeping mat in the hallways on the women’s residential floor may appear meek, there is nothing simple about the program itself – the abstinence addiction treatment that exposes the challenges of rehabilitation and relapse. Derek and the SAWC staff have done so much more than help Tammy obtain her birth certificate, state identification, and Social Security claim. They have made available all the resources that SAWC and the community have to offer, enabling Tammy to help herself. Today Tammy is very active inher sobriety and incredibly self-sufficient. She is working through the 12 Steps of AA. She regularly attends women’s group meetings and encourages others to join in. She meets with her therapist and speaks with her sponsor regularly. She has re-established a relationship with her daughter, son-in-law and grandkids. She has made new friendships and promotes the benefits of all SAWC programs and resources to everyone that enters the Delonis Center. She helps individuals recognize that The Shelter Association provides the tools to succeed and that you have to learn what tools you need to break down the barriers to housing to secure a sustainable lifestyle. Staff members will tell you that Tammy was incredibly instrumental in turning her life around due to her newfound ability to take responsibility of the choices she makes. It has been a common sight to see her walk around with a binder, taking careful notes and following through with suggestions for personal growth and development. She has crossed a transformational threshold of ownership with no signs of turning back. She no longer blames individuals or circumstances for the things that happen to her. She has developed good coping skills. She realizes her future success is in her own hands and that she must work for what she wants. Tammy is very forthright about her journey. She was awarded a Rapid Rehousing voucher and moved into sustainable housing. While she awaits notice of her social security claim, she is searching for a career that will allow her to use her fabulous voice, customer service and telemarketing skills remotely. For the first time in a long time, she is smiling and hopeful. She is healing. She is an inspirational SAWC success story.
Cam first moved from Detroit to Ypsilanti in hopes of putting her son into a better school district. She could not afford to live on her own and moved in with her eldest daughter until she found out that her daughter was HIV positive. Not wanting to be a burden to her care, and recovery, she moved out and placed her son with her elderly mother in a tiny dwelling that only had enough space for the two of them. Eventually she found herself on the streets, sacrificing her own safety and security for her sons. She is eager to tell you that she first visited the Shelter Association in 2005. Her memory is exceptional as she recites the names of previous employees as if she had a conversation with them yesterday. Occasionally, Cam would stay with her daughter on weekends, but most days she would walk the streets, never panhandling, barely eating, and getting colder with each passing day as winter approached. She heard about the Warming Center at the Delonis Center. While she was happy to get in out of the cold, eat a meal, and shower, she was afraid to store any of her belongings in fear of them getting stolen. Fear is what kept her awake at night on the harsh, cafeteria floor. Fear is what paralyzed her mentally. Case managers empowered Cam to end her own homelessness by participating in our Income to Savings to Housing (ISH) Program; a program that sets asides and saves 70% of a client’s income to secure first and last month’s rent. After the winter shelter season ended, SAWC staff discovered that Cam suffered from a gambling addiction that made it hard for her to save to find a permanent home. If she did not lose her money to gambling, she offered it to her family for support. She eventually was able to find a rental unit on Baker and Packard. Sadly these arrangements only lasted for 3 months as she explains the accommodations weren’t very good. Mold saturated the walls, and when it rained the mold would cover her and her belongings. She later found another property on Cross Street but felt so unsafe due to drug dealing and gang activity onsite. Her next property, she tells you, was such a tiny room that she could not put a bed in it. She had to walk sideways to get to the bathroom and the bathtub would back up so high that water would rise to her knees. Social services visited and declared the place not livable due to the water damage. She says she probably would have stayed there if it weren’t for the broken steps that caused her to take a tumble. After her accident, she could not climb the steps to get back to her apartment so she lost the rental. For years, Cam went back and forth between SAWC, Michigan Ability Partners, Peace House and Mercy House for case management and housing support to find what she considered suitable living arrangements. She lived with hoarders, addicts, friends and strangers. With each story she tells, every now and again she would talk of family and the short stays she would have with them. She even moved out of state to live with cousins that offered her rent for free if she would babysit. When she explains again that this was not “the best situation for her”, like most, you might find yourself getting a little frustrated, angry or judgmental. It’s easy to question why she can’t manage to live with family or make rental properties work out. You might think how fortunate she is to have family to stay with as most experiencing homelessness don’t have the family support system that she has. She will go on to tell you that while living in Akron, Ohio she would come back to Ann Arbor often to meet with her doctors and get her medications. When asked what medications she is taking, Cam will casually tell you that she is a schizophrenic as if she was talking about the weather. This is the light bulb moment. While schizophrenia affects as little as 1% of the U.S. population, it affects nearly 20% of the homeless population making it difficult for people with this disorder to maintain relationships let alone the responsibility of maintaining a home and stability. Long term mental facilities no longer exist, leaving ill-equipped families to care for the mentally ill, leaving the streets or prisons as viable housing options. With all her housing ups and downs, Cam never gave up advocating for herself and the staff never gave up on finding housing for her. She cries when she reflects on how hard SAWC fought for her. Staff convinced her to enroll in a Payee Services program that directly pays her bills and rent. Now that she is housed, she is more determined than ever to keep it that way. The staff at Shelter wants to reduce her chances of housing instability by applying Critical Time Intervention practices. Current staff members continue to check in on Cam, making sure she is taking her medications, visiting her doctors and accessing community and mental health supports. She continues to visit the shelter to participate in our most successful volunteer program; Art Break Studio and to share a meal and hope with other clients. She is working on managing her anger and increasing her self-esteem by participating in GED training. After taking the GED exam she hopes to enroll in Washtenaw Community College. She has gained the knick name” Auntie Cam”, for her survivalist skills and her ability to get answers.
Shelter staff first met Lydia in 2013 when she arrived at the doorstep of the Delonis Center looking for a place to stay. At this point staff knew very little about this individual who we would continue to assist over the next five years! It was apparent that Lydia suffered from some form of mental illness but was not willing to accept assistance at that time. Lydia left the shelter only to return again in 2016. After going to Detroit for a long period of time Lydia came back, still not willing to accept our assistance. With her mental illness only decompensating further, it almost seemed as if this client would be bouncing around for years to come. Lydia was disheveled, in need of a haircut and clothing. Lydia declined most of the staff’s attempts to get her the help she needed. Staff tried on multiple occasions to get Lydia connected to services, engaging the PATH team (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) for her care, as well as the shelter clinic. Sadly, Lydia left the shelter again only to return again a few months later. This stay would be very different for Lydia as staff were able to petition the courts for her to receive mental health treatment. After a short stay in the hospital in order to stabilize and gain insight into her illness, Lydia returned to the staff who she had learned to trust over the years. Lydia was given the assistance she needed but her barriers were still holding up her progress to move towards obtaining her own place to live. Lydia had a guardian that was appointed to her and it was very difficult to get Lydia the things she needed to be housed like her state ID and birth certificate. During this time she was picked for Avalon Housing and granted a Permanent Supportive Housing Voucher! Now the case management team would need to work quicker than ever to assist Lydia with her barriers. It was a race to get Lydia all of her documents so she could move into housing quickly. With the assistance of other local agencies and staff at the shelter, Lydia was able to move into her housing. What an exciting day as we watched Lydia leave with her keys in hand and a smile on her face, knowing that she was going to be moving into a place she could call her own.
Michael was 71 years old, in a wheelchair, and experiencing homelessness for more than a year when he came to the Shelter to stay in the Warming Center. His path to the Warming Center began with declining health that became so acute he spent long periods in the hospital. These long hospitals stays made it impossible to stay current with his rent. By August of 2015, he was out on the street. Along with his health decline he was in a long battle with substance abuse. His arthritis and thrombosis confined him to a wheelchair. Because of this he was sleeping in bus stops and hospital lobbies, which left him vulnerable to repeated physical assaults. Finally, Michael was desperate for help and came to the Warming Center in the winter of 2017. Our Warming Center case manager, recognizing his vulnerability, started to work with him. First, she connected him with substance abuse treatment at Dawn Farms. While he was receiving outpatient counseling for his drug abuse, he was introduced to the Shelter’s medical case manager. She connected him with to the University of Michigan Hospital and Packard Health where his physical health concerns were addressed. With his major health issues being addressed, Michael was ready to look for a permanent place to live. Identifying Michael’s need for in-home care because of his physical disabilities, his case manager advocated for housing assistance through Michigan Ability Partners permanent supportive housing program. Michael qualified for this assistance and is now in his own apartment and receiving the support he needs. He is sober, gets regular medical treatment, and his health has improved. Michael was ecstatic he did not have to endure another year on the streets. He is flourishing and grateful to the Shelter Association’s Warming Center for connecting him to the help he needed but could not find on his own.
It’s hard to imagine being homeless for seven days, let alone seven years. Choosing the streets to shelter, choosing strangers over family. Having no concern for safety, no concern for security, structure, or routine. Belongings and belonging have no value. Believing that food, hygiene, and medical care are necessities of others. These illogical thoughts were Mariah’s very existence until she was able to understand her relationship between chronic homelessness and her Severe and Persistent Mental Illness. This understanding was not discovered easily. Street outreach teams tried connecting Mariah to mental health services for years. Mercy House tried to encourage her to seek mental health treatment. Community Mental Health knew her well but could not get her to commit to treatment. Despite the communities’ best efforts, many agencies struggled to break through to her. Mentally she was not reachable. While she did obtain HUD Housing for a short while, she quickly resumed her position on the streets, choosing the harsh outdoor elements to numerous housing opportunities that came her way. When Mariah did make her way through the doors of the Delonis Center, the staff described her behavior as erratic. They have vivid memories of her being withdrawn, choosing to sit outside during the coldest winter months instead of seeking warmth and refuge indoors. They recall her paranoia and verbal conflicts among other mental health symptoms. They recount the numerous times they feared for her safety and for those around her when the slightest of occurrences triggered severe behavioral changes. Like many others experiencing homelessness: isolation, lack of sleep, anxiety, and stress began exacerbating Mariah’s mental and physical health problems. Due to her refusal for treatment, our Case Management team decided it was in Mariah’s best interest to pursue a Mental Health Pick-up order for her well-being. The court order given to Mariah for Mental Health Treatment was a life-changing transformation. Mariah complied with the order and under the guidance of case management willingly participated in her treatment plan and has continued to do so housed. With Mental Health Treatment including medication management and psychiatry services, Mariah has seen a reduction in symptoms, an increase in the ability to meet her activities of daily living, and has been given an opportunity to reconnect with the community in a meaningful way. While the shelter made attempts to stay true to the Housing First Model, by offering housing opportunities prior to Mariah’s connection to Mental Health treatment, her guarded nature and paranoia prevented her from accessing those housing opportunities without first addressing her mental health. Mariah was a guest at the Shelter for nine months until she moved into permanent supportive housing with a life-long voucher and financial subsidy, including supportive services. Since participating in treatment, Mariah has been able to continue her relationship with her children. Upon seeing her mother post-hospitalization, Mariah’s daughter stated, 'THAT’S MY MOM. THAT’S THE WOMAN I KNOW!' Mariah was elated to have HouseN2Home furnish her apartment, and we are pleased that she takes the time to visit the Delonis Center for meal services offered by Food Gatherer’s. Mariah is a classic example of adages such as 'it takes a village,' 'meet people where they are at,' and 'there is no failure except in no longer trying.' Our focus is on ending homelessness rather than stabilizing it. Our work is not complete until appropriate housing is found for all, no matter what the barriers are.
This is a story about Billy as he embarked on a transformative journey of resilience and recovery. History is a testament to the indomitable spirit that can emerge from the darkest of days. Once caught in the clutches of profound depression triggered by a heart-wrenching divorce and exacerbated by alcohol, Billy found himself at the threshold of despair. His coping mechanisms had led to strained relationships, alienating him from his family and loved ones. The weight of the world bore heavily on his shoulders, and he grappled with thoughts that no one should bear. In a pivotal moment, Billy’s path took a sharp turn. One desperate day, he threw himself in front of a speeding car, a cry for help that fate answered with a merciful twist. Though injured, he survived the accident, awakening to the realization that life was worth living and fighting for. Guiding lights emerged in the form of the compassionate staff in the SAWC Housing Crisis Stabilization Program. They rallied around him, offering unwavering support and ensuring he received the necessary mental health care to stabilize his depression. Billy’s recovery began, and with every passing day, he took leaps and bounds towards a brighter future. The accident had left Billy with injuries that prevented him from returning to his beloved profession as a chef. However, the program’s dedicated staff were not deterred by this hurdle. They stood by him, helping him navigate the complex process of applying for disability benefits. Their relentless efforts bore fruit, securing Section 8 vouchers that marked a turning point in his life. Now on the cusp of a new chapter, Billy was eager to return to Ypsilanti, his cherished home. He looked forward to reigniting the flames of his passion for cooking in the comforting confines of his new apartment. Sobriety had granted him a fresh perspective, and he felt ready to rekindle a relationship that had once seemed irreparably strained – a relationship with his son in Chicago. As he settles into his new residence, he is looking forward to the aroma of his culinary creations filling the air, symbolizing not only the joy of cooking but also the triumph of the human spirit. Billy’s story is proof that with the right support, resilience, and determination, it is possible to overcome the darkest of days and emerge into the light, ready to embrace the beauty of life once more. His journey is a beacon of hope, a tale of resilience, and a reminder that there’s strength in seeking help and healing in connection.
As a part of our move-out program, we empower our clients with brand new laptops to support their transition into stable housing. We invite them to share their aspirations, dreams, and goals as they embark on this new chapter in their lives. With respect for privacy, we change names and we feature these insights on our website, showcasing the incredible steps our clients are taking towards brighter futures. Each entry is a testament to the power of hope and the impact of our collective efforts to end homelessness.