from Ozone House
Editor’s note: Ozone House tasked a handful of youth with writing essays for The Ann, but couldn’t decide which one was best. We picked one to run in the July edition, but all four were fantastic. So we’re publishing the other three here.
“Homeless youth are so invisible to people in our community,” said Sue Dvorak, communications coordinator for Ozone House. “Thank you for giving them the opportunity for their voices to be heard.”
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.
I still remember those days. I remember sleeping in a car or ditch, and crying myself to sleep at night, wishing I would die. But I couldn’t. I had my siblings to take care of. Nobody knew it either. Nobody had the slightest clue that I was struggling with the fight for food every day and finding a bed to sleep in at night. My pride was too high and I was embarrassed to say anything, even if it meant going to school in the same clothes for a week.
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.
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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.
In fact, I did graduate on time! Months later, I had my beautiful son. We were left with no other option for housing but to move in with my son’s father’s mom in Ann Arbor. She suggested he stay with her, while my son and I go to a shelter. I was afraid, but that’s what we did. Because I didn’t have any family in the area, I was dependent upon my child’s father and his mother. But, they shut me out, refusing to watch my son while I worked. Luckily, I was able to get help through Child Care Network. I continued working and walking two miles to and from my son’s daycare every day before and after work. During this time, my son’s father attempted suicide twice, and had to be rushed to the hospital.
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.
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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.
I came to Ozone House searching for help with my financial and economic needs. At the time, I was not old enough to have a job in the community. So, I started with the basics – babysitting, dog watching, and taking care of people in the neighborhood. These were my only options. Finding good clothes to wear for the next day also became a challenge for me. Some days, people would notice that I would wear the same clothes over and over again due to not being able wash my clothes. At times, I would even go without food to save whatever scraps we had left for my family. With us not having food stamps or enough income to get fresh food, it became a problem to have healthy food. Being a Type 2 Diabetic, I was not supposed to go days without food or my health would go down. It was a struggle.
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 become 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.