Starfish Family Services Crisis Shelter
Starfish Family Services Crisis Shelter in Inkster helps to keep kids, ages 10 to 17, off the streets. Working with runaway, homeless, and throwaway youth and youth in immediate crisis – and their families – shelter staff try to reunite youth with their families when possible. Within a safe, stable, and structured environment, youth learn life skills, receive counseling, and connect with other community resources. The shelter is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
Starfish Family Services Youth Service Manager David Cardinal:
We have been doing this for many years and have employees that have been through all of the changes -- changes to contracts, reporting, licensing and agency changes -- as well as employees fresh out of college. Employees that chose to stay develop a belonging and become invested in the overall mission to our agency. This gives us program stability and is what youth want, even though they don’t know it.
Our newer employees bring in new opportunities, different points of view, and keep us abreast on the ever-changing ways of thinking and best practices. For example, when new employees get trained they ask questions, and this can spark
We have to be the voice of the underserved families in our community. We have to push back when we believe those voices are not being heard...
conversations that lead to looking into something a little deeper, not just doing something because that’s the way it has been done, but truly being able to answer why we do something. Sometimes things change for the better.
Now a seasoned employee brings a calmness to the staff due to the fact that they have been there, done that, and know why it is happening. This is the person that usually brings consistency to the program, which youth thrive in.
What are the keys to success for your program?
We have to continue to roll with the punches, while keeping the best interest of the youth and our population in mind. We have to be the voice of the underserved families in our community. We have to push back when we believe those voices are not being heard and find alternative funding sources that understand or are willing to listen to our community voices. Our keys to success are doing all of those things while continuing to provide a safe, stable and structured environment to the youth and families.
We have negotiated in-kind counseling so that we can continue to provide that to our youth, even though our funding doesn’t allow us to support that position. We have been working with Wayne County Protective Services so that we can continue to offer housing for youth awaiting placement. We know that there is a need for these youth to be temporarily housed, but our contract will only allow for a 21-day stay. We have been working with PS, so they understand how to use us and how not to use us.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
There are many nights when we have open beds. We know that there are youth on our streets and families that are in crisis. We have recently joined with three other agencies to form the Southeast Michigan Regional Runaway & Homeless Youth Alliance. Our goal of the alliance is to better serve that population and to maximize our bed capacities. This project is being
Those who choose to work with at-risk youth seem to be people that have gone through something themselves as youth.
funded through the United Way of Southeast Michigan. We already have a project director and are in the process of developing a shared data system, an alliance dashboard, and a shared data entry employee.
What are the staff members in your program most inspired by?
My employees are most inspired by helping youth through their times of crisis. They have all entered the human services field to make a difference, and everyday each one of my staff members does just that.
Crisis intervention, which is first understanding what is happening, usually entails calming the individual down so that everyone understands what we are dealing with. It is followed by community resource sharing: identifying what programs are available depending on the crisis. Life skills training is a large aspect of the day-to-day programming. We teach the youth everything from hygiene to chores to understanding self-esteem and making proper choices. Also, all of the youth have access to a therapist twice a week.
Those who choose to work with at-risk youth seem to be people that have gone through something themselves as youth. A lot of people think they want to work with youth that are at-risk, but not everyone is cut out for the job. You need someone who is able to reach the youth on their level to build trust, but you need to be aware not to blur boundaries. You also need someone who is going to be consistent, so the youth know what to expect.
In looking at other teen shelters in our region, which ones do you think are doing exceptional work and why?
I would have to say that Common Ground, Alternatives for Girls, and Ruth Ellis are the agencies that are doing exceptional work in the area of runaway and homeless youth. Common Ground runs very similar housing programs as Starfish Shelter, and their manager actually helped me get onboard to the runaway and homeless youth world. Alternatives for Girls and Ruth Ellis are amazing compliments to both Starfish and Common Ground, with AFG serving parenting and pregnant teens and adult woman and Ruth Ellis’ expertise with the LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer] population. All of these agencies including Starfish have come together to form the Southeast Michigan Runaway & Homeless Youth Regional Alliance.