Photo taken by Erica Rakowicz
Freedom House, a temporary home for survivors of persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum in the United States and Canada, was met with much uncertainty in late 2016 and early 2017. They learned that their federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding, which makes up at 60 percent of their funding, might be taken away from them due to changes in the administration.
Freedom house has been operating since 1983 and the nonprofit organization came to be in response to terrible reports of political torture and murder in El Salvador. Refugees were arriving in Detroit due to its closeness to Canada, where many were headed for safety and a new life, looking for somewhere to stay and take shelter.
Homeless shelters weren’t able to meet the legal, medical, language and resettlement needs that the refugees had, so together, residents of Windsor, Ontario, and residents of Detroit joined to form the Detroit/Windsor Refugee Coalition.
Since the 80s, Freedom House has been finding ways to best serve this population. The organization advocates for systemic change and recognizes the rights of those seeking asylum. Freedom House saw refugees from El Salvador in the 80s, refugees from the Middle East and Somalia in the 90s, and today, the majority of Freedom Houses’ residents come from sub-Saharan Africa.
About 95 percent of Freedom House residents are victims of torture, said TJ Rogers, program manager at Freedom House.
Because of this statistic, Freedom House is always trying to provide OBGYN services for women, orthopedic help, dermatology help and neurological help, in addition to behavioral, mental and nutritional help.
Many of Freedom Houses’ residents are victims of PTSD and a lot of them are inflicted with survivor's guilt and anxiety.
“Mental health is huge,” Rogers said. To help residents walk through the process of finding mental stability and comfort is one of the most important parts of the work done at Freedom House, in addition to the legal process, he said.
Staff and volunteers at Freedom House try to look at the resident wholistically while incorporating formal health components, Rogers said. They incorporate yoga and meditation to bring residents back to the present to help ease their mental state and they partner with the YMCA to work on diet and nutrition, too.
Rogers said that Freedhom House wants residents to know that people do care about them and that they have not been forgotten about. It’s important for the residents to know that people at Freedom House and in the community are welcoming them and want them to be here, Rogers said. “It speaks volumes,” Rogers said.
A majority of the entertainment coordinated for residents at Freedom House happens onsite, including movie nights, game nights and speakers from local organizations and universities who talk about music in the area and American slang.
When Freedom House and the rest of the community found out about the possible stripping of funds, the community jumped into help mode. In a few months of fundraising, Freedom House raised about $330,000, collected from fundraisers by other organizations, private groups and individual donations.
“We were blown away,” Rogers said.
Freedom House found out that their funding from HUD goes up until March of 2018 and then their future with that funding source is unknown.
The silver lining in all of this is that there was an explosion of awareness that was created about Freedom Houses’ work and mission and their need for help, Rogers said.
About 40 to 45 individuals are able to stay at Freedom House at a time and they’re almost always at capacity with about 24 months being the maximum time of stay. They also have a handful of off site apartments, allowing additional individuals to receive assistance. Freedom House works to provide pre-employment opportunities for residents to put the individuals in a better position for the future.
Freedom House is very grateful for what they have and what they provide to residents and they’re looking to become less reliant on government funds due to the unpredictability in today’s world, Rogers said.
“There’s an outpouring of love at Freedom House,” he said. Last year, Freedom house was able to help 136 people- 118 adults and 18 children. At the end of the day, Freedom House is trying to end homelessness and value all individuals. If you’re unable to donate funds but want to get involved, you can volunteer your services, like grant writing, educational opportunities and pro bono medical assistance.
Freedom House is located at 2630 W. Lafayette Blvd. They can be reached by phone at 313-964-4320 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can donate easily by texting FREEDOM83 to 41444 or you can visit their website at www.freedomhousedetroit.org.
~Erica N Rakowicz