Generosity Feels Like Home

Youth shelter provides haven in times of crisis.

When 15-year-old Olivia* walked into the Samaritan Youth Shelter this past April, she was over 100 assignments behind in her schoolwork. She was also in need of a place to stay after tensions with her mother had reached a boiling point — again.

What she found in this place was the encouragement and assistance to steadily tackle the backlog of homework while also keeping up with current assignments. She also experienced the clarity that comes from a “cooling off” period. After working with shelter staff and her family, 28 days later she was able to move back in with her mom.

In 2020, several Bay Area Community Foundation funds awarded grants to the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission for this new community resource. Several donor-advised funds as well as the Youth Advisory Committee, Mens Philanthropy Group and the Community Initiative Fund combined to grant more than $60,000 to address this unmet need

Housed in a dedicated space at the shelter on 9th Street, Samaritan Youth Shelter provides short-term emergency shelter, counseling and 24-hour staffing for up to 30 days for homeless youth ages 12 to 17 who have become separated from a place they call home. There is no cost to guests or their families.

Nationally, 1 in 30 teens between the ages of 13-17 experience homelessness, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian. On their own, these kids end up sleeping in cars, with a string of friends and acquaintances, or on the street. They are living in extremely vulnerable situations and not getting the help they need.

Locally, the void created by the closing of Bay City’s only teen shelter several years earlier had become unmistakable by the time Good Samaritan Rescue Mission was completing their strategic plan in late 2018. With this need identified, the organization began working to raise the $600,000 required for the project. By early 2020, they had met their goal.

“By this time, Good Samaritan Rescue Mission had a 16-year track record here of solving problems and filling gaps that had earned us trust. Because of that trust, the community came through with faithful financial support,” explained Dan Streeter, CEO of Rescue Ministries of Michigan.

Construction began in early 2020 and despite an extended timeline caused by the many challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, licensing from the State of Michigan DHHS was received in January and the shelter opened for guests in February 2021.

The 2,100 square foot shelter features separate clean, bright and welcoming dorm-style spaces for 5 boys and 5 girls. Each dorm has its own lounge, sleeping and storage, bath and shower, and laundry areas. A collection of sticky notes that ring the bathroom and shower mirrors feature positive messages and affirmations.

The ultimate goal is reunification of families. An individualized service plan is created for each teen with goals and action steps to help the youth return home as soon as it is safe and appropriate. Staff works with guests and families to help resolve the issues that led to the youth being at the shelter.

A diverse staff shares a common focus of offering guests the opportunity to acquire skills that contribute to a healthy, positive and productive young life as they transition into adulthood.

Chief Administrator Rick Doud observed, “I’ve watched these kids just soak up the attention and care from our staff. We are filling a hole in their lives. Sometimes for the first time ever.”

And Olivia?

Program Director Tanya Oberlin explains, “The best part was seeing her lose that fear and anxiety and be able to focus on her work. She proved to herself that she could do it! She knows how success feels. She’ll take that with her.”

*=not her real name


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