Dignitaries break ground on the Clay Center Campus to End Homelessness in Detroit June 14. The center will be located at 3364 Mack Ave. on the former site of the Detroit Police Department’s 7th Precinct.

Dignitaries break ground on the Clay Center Campus to End Homelessness in Detroit June 14. The center will be located at 3364 Mack Ave. on the former site of the Detroit Police Department’s 7th Precinct.

Photo by Deb Jacques

NSO breaks ground on campus to fight homelessness

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published July 12, 2019

DETROIT — New resources will be available for the homeless population of Detroit next year following the groundbreaking for the Neighborhood Service Organization’s new Clay Center Campus to End Homelessness.

The facility will be built in two phases, with builders having broken ground on the first phase June 14 at the former site of the Detroit Police Department’s 7th Precinct building at 3364 Mack Ave.

“This will be 45 permanent supportive housing units. This should be completed by the fourth quarter of 2020,” said NSO President and CEO Linda Little. “The second phase is a community service center and integrated health care clinic that will be open to the public that we are hoping to start construction on by the time we complete construction on phase one.”

The campus will include a number of resources aimed at not only providing homeless individuals with lifesaving short-term necessities, but also long-term programs to provide them with what they need to climb out of homelessness.

“It is a totally comprehensive campus that will focus on ending homelessness for the people we serve,” Little explained. “That will include wraparound services such as health care services, integrated workforce and job training, and life skills training and coaches. We really want to wrap our arms around and sustain their life from this time forward. This means addressing all the socio-economic factors that affect their situation. This can be anything from facilitating service, such as getting ID cards, to substance abuse assistance to navigating their health care providers. It’s helping them with whatever has been stopping them get to the next phase of their life.”

The NSO applied to groups such as the Michigan State Housing Development Authority for funding. Given the wide scope of assistance the facility will provide the homeless of Detroit, MSHDA Director of Development Andy Martin said it was a natural project for the organization to support.

“It’s important for us because it’s a big part of our mission to serve the homeless population with supportive housing needs,” he said. “Additionally, it helps revitalize the neighborhood and brings together a supportive services component focusing on the whole person.”

Other groups, such as the city of Detroit and Chase Bank, also contributed funds toward the project.

The campus is named in honor of Sheilah Clay, the former NSO president and CEO. She said she is honored by the name and hopes it will be the start of major changes in many people’s lives.

“I am absolutely overwhelmed,” Clay said. “A lot of the time people get buildings named after them after they’ve passed, and the (NSO) board voted in August of last year to name it in my honor because they knew I would be retiring. Words can’t express how I feel about something this permanent and this type of legacy being left in my honor.”

Clay fought for years to build such a facility, and those with the NSO agree that she is the individual most responsible for it moving from concept to reality.

“I started on this over 10 years ago when the 7th Precinct building was still on this land,” she said. “I did some predevelopment to see if we could save the building, but we couldn’t. It started with trying to move the shelter. We paused to develop the NSO Bell Building (at 882 Oakland Blvd. in the former Michigan Bell Building), which opened in 2012, and now not only are we moving the shelter here, but we are moving permanent housing here as well as support facilities.”

The NSO has strived for decades to aid the homeless of Detroit by acting proactively and reaching out to those in distress.

“NSO has been around since 1955,” said Little. “We have always been and continue to be a community-based organization that delivers services in the community. A lot of service organizations require those they’re trying to help to come to them, but we have actively gone out into the community. We are in homes, nursing homes, we deliver street medicine; we have always been on the cusp of adapting to the changing needs of the community we serve.”

That proactive approach will be built upon at the new facility, where it also will serve as a home base for additional outreach efforts by the NSO.

“We will be providing, as best we can, primary care for those staying at the shelter,” said Dan Carpenter, a nurse practitioner with the NSO. “It also will be the home base for our outreach program, where we go out with medical students from Wayne State University School of Medicine and look for people on the streets, in the parks or under overpasses, as well as soup kitchens and warming centers, to look for homeless people and bring health care to them.”

NSO leaders said the new campus is designed to sustain itself financially so it will not collapse should donors no longer become available.

“My hope for this facility is that it’s completely sustainable,” said Little. “The services provided here are reimbursable and billable services, and we designed it that way so in five years you will see a campus that is thriving and demonstrating all the lives we are impacting because we are here.”

Little believes the new facility will be a critical steppingstone for people in the most desperate situations.

“Our mission is to ensure no one we touch is left behind,” she said. “We are part of the great revitalization going on in Detroit right now, and part of that revitalization is addressing the needs of the homeless population and getting them to live and thrive in our community.”

Clay said the services provided by the campus can mean the difference between life and death.

“You are talking about people on the lowest rung who don’t know where their next meal is coming from and don’t know where they’re going to sleep tonight. Their hope is gone, and this is giving people their hope back. These are people who can be productive members of our society, and right now they are not. They aren’t being saved, and they’re not being given a new beginning,” Clay said. “I hope to see the people moving in, moving out and having jobs and progressing, and have this become a real Mecca for moving people out of homelessness.”