Here are stories of survival, dreaming big despite the odds, seeing the possibilities, and finding a home.
Ozone House has made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of youth and their families in our community since 1969.
Seeing the Potential in “Broken” and “Lost” Youth
There are many times in a young person’s life when guidance is needed. Young adults are faced with difficult decisions every day that can shape the rest of their lives. Ozone House provided me with the guidance I needed. They were the light that helped me though the darkest times in my life.
As for my father, he had remarried and his new wife and family wanted nothing to do with me. I was disowned. I felt alone and that the situation was my fault. Because I had no place to go, I assumed there must have been something wrong with me, something that made me so unwanted.
I found myself reaching out for help in all the wrong places. I figured out places to sleep at night. If anyone asked, I would just refer to it as “staying with friends.” But, I was really staying with drug addicts, alcoholics, and dealers – anyone that didn’t mind me sleeping on their floor for a night or two. Being so unstable caused me to move around. While I was originally from Ann Arbor, I spent weeks, even months at a time, living in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Texas. As soon as I overstayed my welcome, or no longer had something to offer the person taking me in, it was time to pick up and start over again.
I was referred to Ozone House by a friend of mine. I saw firsthand what Ozone had done to help her. I walked into my initial intake meeting thinking, “I have nothing to lose, so it must be worth a shot.” The feeling that overcame me that day is something I will never forget. For the first time, I was able to voice my situation, fears, and thoughts without judgment and without some authority figure undermining me. I was given back control over my life. Ozone helped me see that this is my life and I am the only one who can define it. They have been with me every step of the way. I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs , but with their support, I have continued on my life’s journey. Ozone was there to help me finish high school, find my own apartment, maintain a dependable job, choose a career, escape from an abusive relationship, and realize my self-worth.
Ozone sees the potential in what people think of as “broken” or “lost” youth. They give them what they need the most – someone who truly cares.
by Robin N.
Being at the Ozone House for the first time, I did not know what to expect. I have trust issues in new environments and that can make it difficult to get along with people. But, when I got there, I felt relieved. They did not treat me like an outsider. As I got to know everybody, I began to feel comfortable and safe.
Ozone House has been a blessing to me. Through a program called WorkZone, they helped me learn how to do a resume and cover letter, improve my job search skills, get regular and interview clothes and even find a job. I became an intern at the Department of Human Services for a year and worked with teens who share the same story as me. Through Ozone House, I also worked with a case manager who helped me get myself together. He helped me to get food, find a place of my own and open a bank account. I became more economically stable.
Little by little, I’ve became more comfortable and felt more safe within this community. I am now volunteering at Ozone’s Drop-In Center to help out as much as I can in my free time. Because of Ozone House, I feel happy, loved and worth the time to be here as a young adult.
by Brittney B.
Invisible. That is the heart-wrenching reality of homeless children. Even strong community leaders fail to recognize the difference between a youth that has slept in a bed the previous night and one who has not. The kid you see carrying an iPhone in his hand or wearing the newest pair of Jays today may have begged for food off the streets yesterday. Invisible. Anyone could be completely oblivious to the situation an at-risk youth is facing.
Months after my journey begun, I started to find the courage to seek help. After finally speaking up, I saw myself on the local Fox News channel and, just like that, a swarm of community members began to help me. Social workers were everywhere – questioning me about my next place to stay or how much food intake I had that day. My school set up permanent transportation to get me there and my school counselor took me into her home. Strangers came to the ditch I was sleeping in and gave me money and clothes and offered to take me in so I could shower. Different churches knitted me blankets and donated food and personal hygiene care packages. Soon I began to find hope. As the community called their attention to my cry for help, I began to see a future of stability for my siblings and me.
Years later, as a happy, normal teenage girl, I wanted to give back; give back to the community that helped get me up while I was down. I began working at Ozone House, a homeless shelter and nonprofit organization designed to create the stable life every young person deserves. It was important to me that endangered youth in Washtenaw County were off the streets. Ozone House helped fit into that goal. It is the only youth-oriented homeless shelter in the county and takes about 2,000 calls a year on their crisis line assisting callers in receiving help with abuse, homelessness and family conflict. One year after participating in Family Therapy Services at Ozone House, 96% of youth have safe and stable housing. Finally, roughly 8,000 meals are served through Ozone House’s three different locations each year.
Ozone house has provided me the ability to become a responsible member of our community. Working there as a Peer Outreach Worker, I have had the chance to talk to hundreds of youth in the county and set them up with services we provide. This youth-friendly organization has not only impacted my own story, but has saved the lives of many others. Thank you Ozone House for all the hard work you put into the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti areas and for granting me the ability to give many others a chance to live.
by Martina P.
At 17, I was living with my former boyfriend and his family. I became pregnant while still in high school, trying to complete 12th grade. My former boyfriend didn’t like the idea of becoming a father at such a young age. He began showing hate towards me, which later turned into abuse. His stepdad (who is schizophrenic) put us out so often, we tried to find our own place. It wasn’t as easy as we thought. We lived in abandoned buildings, drug houses, and with different friends and family members. It was hard not having a stable place to lay my head. I missed a lot of school. I was in an abusive relationship. I was homeless. I was pregnant. I was going to fail the 12th grade. We eventually decided to move back in with his stepdad even though that meant dealing with his disorderly behavior. At least I could try to graduate on time since he lived by my school.
My son and I returned to his father and his mom’s apartment. The abuse started again. He was referred to Ozone House during one of his hospital stays. They were very helpful, giving him an outlet and someone to genuinely listen to him. It was working for him, so I decided to give them a try. I loved it! I’ve never had someone so engrossed in what I had to say. I felt relieved. Then, I became pregnant with my second child, and his father’s mom told us we had to leave. I again reached out to Ozone House. Within a month, we were in our very first apartment. We were part of adopt-a-family and given so many holiday gifts it seemed unreal. We received things that we would have never have been able to afford but desperately needed.
One of the Ozone therapists agreed to do couples therapy with us. I needed the abuse to stop, especially being pregnant. After about two months of therapy, the abuse stopped. Life seemed perfect – too perfect.
Four months after my daughter’s birth, her father murdered her.
Once again, Ozone stepped in and started a donation for the funeral and for my son’s development. They were my best friends throughout the entire traumatic event. They even supported me by attending the funeral. By going to Ozone House, I was awarded friendship, trust, honesty, and a lot of people who refused to see me down. Thanks to Ozone, I have not been homeless for three years, and I am in college. I had someone to vent to when I lost my child. When I was depressed, they saved my life. Had it not been for Ozone, I would be back to square one, homeless and alone. I am finally happy.
Against All Odds
Ashley, a former Miller House resident, started college last year at Western Michigan University “against all odds,” in the words of her Ozone House case manager, Larisa Galnares.
After several stays in Ozone House’s Emergency Shelter, Ashley moved into Miller House, Ozone House’s transitional living program for homeless youth ages 17 to 20. Miller House provides stable housing and teaches essential life skills to youth who would otherwise be homeless or in unsafe living situations. Many of these youth age out of foster care without a support system or the skills and resources to live independently.
“It’s hard to ask for help, but Ozone House never made me feel bad about it,” Ashley explains. “At Ozone House, I didn’t have to worry about packing my bags because we couldn’t pay the bills.”
Because of the stability Miller House provided, Ashley was able to improve her grades and was accepted to three colleges. “Ozone House gave her the support, tools and guidance, but ultimately she took over and did it herself,” shares Ashley’s case manager.
“I’m very grateful,” says Ashley. “I know I can trust Ozone House to be there for me no matter what.”
Dreaming of School in New York
Meghan first visited Ozone House’s Youth Drop-In Center in Ypsilanti at 10 years old to get a hot meal with her older siblings. “The priority was always to get something to eat because we might not get something later on,” explains Meghan.
“Meghan is undoubtedly one of the most creative and talented people I have ever met,” shares Colleen O’Brien, Youth Development Director.
At 16, Meghan became the youngest member of Project SpeakOUT, Ozone House’s poetry team. With the team, Meghan has the opportunity to participate in a nation-wide competition in New York City. “Seeing the city and participating in these amazing things made my dream of going to school in New York one day seem more real,” Meghan explains.
Through her poetry and support at Ozone House, Meghan became an important voice to her peers. “Poetry helps me express myself, and I’ve had the chance to share my message with others.” Meghan became a Peer Outreach Worker at the Drop-In Center to reach out to other high-risk youth. Each year the POWs reach more than 2000 youth by handing out help cards and offering support and positive encouragement.
Among many community service projects, Meghan participated in outreach efforts as a motivational speaker in Detroit middle schools. “She uses her talent and creativity to engage other youth and make them feel comfortable,” says Colleen.
Never losing sight of her ultimate goal to return to NYC, she continued to work hard at school with the support of Ozone House staff and peers. Meghan began attending classes at NYU in the Fall of 2007.
“Words cannot describe how proud I am of Meghan. She never wavered from her goal. She believed in herself and we believed in her.” Colleen O’Brien, Youth Development Director
Finding a Home
Cyn is 19 and, because of Ozone House, she already has an impressive resume. Cyn provides information about Ozone House’s services and a positive example to kids on the street as a Peer Outreach Worker, helps organize Drop-In Center events as an Ozone Action Board member. She is also youth curator of 2nd VIEW, Ozone House’s gallery and weekly art workshop. “My life was negative. Ozone House helped me switch to positive,” Cyn says.
Her parents kicked her out permanently at 15, so she moved into her aunt’s 3 bedroom house, along with 9 other family members. Soon after, her aunt was evicted and Cyn had nowhere to go. “I probably moved to 20 different places in 3 years,” Cyn says.
At 18, Cyn moved into Miller House, Ozone House’s transitional living program. However, the real victory came the day that Larisa, Cyn’s Ozone House Case Manager, called to let her know that she had received Section 8 Housing. “I was so excited I was crying and praying when I found out. I was just thinking, ‘I’ve been blessed.’”
Cyn has also been blessed with artistic talent. “As long as I can remember,” she says “I’ve always impressed my art teachers.” Cyn is also one of the newest members of Project SpeakOUT, Ozone House’s youth poetry team. “Art lets me express how I feel. I don’t have to worry about reality, and I can never mess up.” Cyn is enrolled in Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in the fall. “Music controls my life!” she says. Her goal is be a radio DJ. Once she “makes it” in radio, Cyn hopes to do everything she can to promote Ozone House. She says, “Ozone House helped me get my life straight and move forward.
Best Friends for Life
Robin came and sat on the steps of Miller House on July 6, 1995, 6 months pregnant and nowhere to go after she was kicked out of her house at 17 years old. Her parents told her that if she was old enough to have a child, then she was old enough to take care of herself, and off she went. Robin stayed at Ozone House’s Miller House for 3 months and learned about responsibility, time management and many other important life skills. At first she didn’t want to talk to anyone about what she was going through until she met a therapist named Misty. Once Robin opened up to Misty her life began to change.
Today, Robin has 5 beautiful children and she is fully employed by Lucky’s Market in Ann Arbor. “Ozone House changed the course of my life and I am forever grateful”, says Robin.
Why did you come to Ozone House?