Dr. David S. Balle, a dermatologist with an office in Grosse Pointe City, will again be sleeping outside one night this month to raise funds that help homeless young adults in metro Detroit.

Dr. David S. Balle, a dermatologist with an office in Grosse Pointe City, will again be sleeping outside one night this month to raise funds that help homeless young adults in metro Detroit.

Photo provided by Covenant House Michigan


Fundraiser to help homeless youths escape cold, chart new lives

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 12, 2019

GROSSE POINTES/DETROIT — Sleeping outside on a November night with nothing between you and the icy concrete but a flimsy cardboard box and a sleeping bag is no one’s idea of fun, but each year, local residents do just that to raise money for, and awareness of, a nonprofit that aids homeless youths.

Among the more than 60 participants this year is Dr. David S. Balle, of Grosse Pointe Farms, a respected dermatologist with a practice in Grosse Pointe City and a member of the nonprofit Grosse Pointe Chamber Foundation. Since 2014, Balle has been participating in a November sleep-out to raise money for Covenant House Michigan in Detroit, which serves homeless youths ages 18-24.

Balle said the annual sleep-out takes place the week before Thanksgiving, during national Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week; this year’s sleep-out is Nov. 21.

“I felt a call and a need to do what I could to be helpful,” Balle said. “I feel God has given me many blessings in life.”

Gerry Piro, of Grosse Pointe Farms, the executive director of Covenant House Michigan, said Covenant House has shelters and drop-in centers across the United States, Canada and Latin America. The sleep-outs started in Detroit in 2014, but they began a few years before that at other locations.

“We have two major fundraisers each year,” Piro said. “What makes this one so important is it is really being in solidarity with homeless youth.”

Covenant House Michigan has had its Detroit location since 1997 and opened a second location in Grand Rapids in November 2018. The faith-based organization — which Piro said is “90% privately funded” — provides education, shelter, vocational and support services to homeless, runaway and at-risk youths ages 18-24, some of whom have been the victims of abuse and human trafficking, and some of whom have been rejected by their families because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. About 70 youths live on the 5-acre Detroit campus, which Piro said is parklike and peaceful.

“A lot of these young people have been affected by trauma,” he said.

At Covenant House, Piro said, youths receive food, housing and workforce development training, and social workers are on hand to assist them as well. Some have mental health or addiction problems. Piro said the staff helps the youths manage medications and takes them to court hearings, if needed.

“The goal here is a job and/or a diploma and/or a permanent place to live,” Piro said. “We act like a parent. … We make sure they’re well cared for. Our staff truly loves them. We put them on a path for success.”

They operate four charter schools for homeless youths, and once youths find a job, Piro said Covenant House staffers provide ongoing support so they can retain it.

“Covenant House gives them a safe place to be,” Balle said. “It gives them shelter. It gives them food. And it gives them access to resources. … Many of these people would like to work and would like to support themselves, but they’re homeless, (so) they don’t have a driver’s license, they don’t have (their) birth certificate.”

Without documents like these, getting a job, an apartment or anything else is nearly impossible. Acquiring identification — and giving homeless youths an address — is another service Piro said Covenant House offers. In addition, he said vans with Covenant House staffers travel the city in search of homeless individuals, offering them rides to Covenant House or another shelter, as well as food and warm items like blankets for those who aren’t ready to get off the street.

The sleep-out starts with a vigil that Balle said is “very moving.”

“Part of the evening, we spend time talking to people who are residents there,” he said. “They think nobody really cares about them. Through Covenant House, they find out there’s a lot of love and a lot of care (for them). … It’s really been a gift for me to be able to be with them. They’re so inspiring.”

Balle has raised more than $40,000 for Covenant House Michigan through the sleep-outs since 2014, a spokesperson said.

“Dr. Balle is very committed, not only to this event, but to Covenant House as a whole,” Piro said. “He’s participated in a lot of different events. He’s really a cheerleader for homeless youth.”

Piro said a couple of other participants in this year’s sleep-out also have Grosse Pointe ties: Chad Blair, the athletic director of the Country Club of Detroit, and Grosse Pointe City resident Seth Romine.

Balle said the night of the first Detroit sleep-out, it was only about 17 degrees to 19 degrees outside. While he admitted it was uncomfortable, he said that unlike homeless people, sleep-out participants are able to get out of the cold after their 12-hour stint. The youths who Covenant House serves “don’t have a choice,” Balle said. He said seeing youths who’ve gone through the program get their own homes and get married motivates him to participate in this fundraiser.

“Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I think, ‘I don’t know if I can do this again,’ but every year, I want to do it again,” Balle said.

Anyone interested in making a pledge can visit Balle’s fundraising page at detroit.executivesleepout.org.