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28 Rooms, 28 Souls: Opportunity Opens for Homeless Youth in Grand Rapids

In Grand Rapids, more than 200 young people do not have a safe place to sleep on any given night.

They might’ve been kicked out of their homes, aged out of foster care or could potentially be fleeing violence or other difficult dynamics such as sexual trafficking. Almost 24 percent of youth leave home because they are physically beaten or abused.

A new youth residential program will provide shelter for homeless and at-risk youth in Grand Rapids, but it aims to be much more than just a place to sleep. Programming and support services will help young people staying there pursue their dreams and independence.

The Covenant House Michigan – Grand Rapids campus will be dedicated during an invitation-only celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 14. The 16,000-square-foot facility will house 28 residents in private rooms. The center will be staffed 24 hours a day and residents will receive support as they work toward education, employment or other goals. Classes on financial literacy, mindfulness, life skills and health will also be offered.

Pam Spaeth, Chief Operating Officer for Covenant House Michigan – Grand Rapids, said that additional programming is critical to the success of the kids and young adults who will stay at Covenant House. Many just haven’t had anyone to teach them how to make the transition from childhood to adulthood and don’t know how to start when it comes to finding a job, applying for financial aid for college, paying rent and other life skills normally taught by parents or caregivers.

“Unless you’re taught how to get there, it’s really hard,” Spaeth said.

The residential center will be housed on the same campus as Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids, a public high school that gives drop outs, runaways, homeless and at-risk youth an opportunity to earn a diploma. The proximity will help residents who are working toward their own diploma.

Based on other Covenant House programs throughout the U.S., Canada and Latin America , the average stay for a young person is about six months to a year, but residents can stay as long as they need, provided they’re still working toward their goals.
“We will not ask anyone to leave this building if they don’t have anywhere to go,” Spaeth said.

The project has received generous support from community sponsors. Jeff Connolly, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan senior vice president and president, West Michigan & Upper Peninsula, is co-chair of the capital campaign for the project, along with Meijer executive Mark Murray. The campaign raised $3.5 million for the building construction and $1 million for long-term sustainability of the program.

Connolly was inspired to sit on the Covenant House board and co-chair the capital campaign in part due to Jeff Rumley, former BCBSM vice president and general counsel, who served Covenant House Michigan in many capacities in southeast Michigan.
Seeing the project come to completion is exciting for Connolly, who envisions lives being changed for generations because of the innovative model.

“The Covenant House model is a hand-up,” he said. “I view it not as 28 rooms, but 28 individuals who are no longer sleeping outside or in a basement and whose lives will now be on a better path.”

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Photo credit: Artistic Captures

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