Shelter & TIL Program
The Alternatives For Girls' Shelter & Transition to Independent Living Program goes far beyond a meal and a roof for homeless girls and young women in metro Detroit. In a caring and nurturing setting, the program offers counseling and educational services to help reunite girls with family or to ready them for self-reliance.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Alternative For Girls Associate Director of the Shelter/Transition to Independent Living Program Tyresha Robinson
: I believe that our residential program is innovative because we do what others won’t do. Currently, we have the capacity to serve 24 young women, ages 15 to 21 and 12 of their children up to six years old. Our residents are minor girls who have either run away or whose guardians have kicked them out of the home; young women who are pregnant or parenting; and single adult women who have found themselves with nowhere to go. The girls and young women come to us without assistance from any other system such as Juvenile Justice or Foster Care. We house the young women who are often turned away elsewhere As with most years, one of the most painful lesson learned was that the demand for shelter for young women who are either parenting or pregnant far exceeds local shelter capacity.
due to age and/or circumstances.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
Consistency is essential when working with this population. Many of the young women we serve come from unstable situations and have suffered a tremendous amount of trauma, which can hinder their progress. The best lesson to take from the past year is the importance of maintaining a consistent, yet evolving, program that fully embraces positive youth development.
Last year, we saw many of our participants reach a point where they were beginning to lose sight of their goals. Whether it was because of the tenuous job market or the lack of affordable housing and childcare, it was becoming more difficult for our staff to motivate many of our participants to move forward with the goals they had set for themselves. This challenged us to look within our program and make the changes necessary to boost their confidence. We did this by going back to the core values of our program, by stressing more youth-driven programming and increasing the number of positive youth development activities. All these modifications were made to create more opportunities for leadership development. By making these small changes to the program focus, we began to see our participants take more initiative within the program; soon they began to reach the goals they set out to accomplish.
Last year, 29 of the program participants were enrolled or became enrolled in an educational program.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
As with most years, one of the most painful lesson learned was that the demand for shelter for young women who are either parenting or pregnant far exceeds local shelter capacity. There are other shelters in the area, and when we are full we assist these young women with referrals, but often finding an open bed is still a problem.
We probably turn away about 100 girls a year when we are full, and that’s very difficult, but we do follow up with them, if they want us to, when a bed opens up for them in our program.
What really differentiates this program?
I tear up every single time it happens, because I know where that girl came from, how much adversity she has faced in her life, and how resilient she has become.
Our program is labeled as a shelter. However, we offer much more to our participants than simply food and a safe place to sleep. We provide a high level of care and loving support to our participants. We offer a comprehensive program, including case management, counseling, and a life skill development program that includes financial literacy, career path counseling, and nutrition information (such as cooking classes) to help them make healthy choices. We offer parenting courses, pregnancy classes and more.
Aftercare services are important -- girls who have transitioned out of the shelter are eligible for the same programs as those who reside there for up to 18 months after they leave the shelter.
We also recognize that these young women, when given the proper tools and information, are completely capable and willing to set their own goals and direct their own lives. We realize that they need a safe space to make the kind of choices that will change their lives in a positive way.
What are the keys to success for your program?
The key to our program’s success is our flexibility -- it allows us to search for innovative solutions. Also, our willingness to do what others will not do, the dedication of our staff, and the wealth of resources that we are able to offer our participants. We have the ability to provide their babies with clothing, car seats, and strollers. We can provide their mothers with day care referrals. We help locate the educational programs that they need, we transport them to job fairs and job interviews, and we assist them when they apply to colleges.
We also help them with the transition process by giving them more help, which includes housing referrals.
What are people in your program most inspired by?
Our girls are inspired by themselves and by our role model staff members, and, most of all, by each other, because participants look at others who are successful in transition.
When they watch a young lady who has completed the program walk out with the keys to her own apartment in her hands – and they say, “If she can do it, I can do it,” that speaks volumes. It’s our greatest asset and our greatest motivator.
I’m a crybaby. I tear up every single time it happens, because I know where that girl came from, how much adversity she has faced in her life, and how resilient she has become. I am in awe of how they are able to do this. It is just amazing to me.