From homelessness to finding a job and a future Ms. Johnson has followed the path of Sankofa thanks to Neighborhood Legal Services Michigan (NLSM).
The Sankofa bird, with its head turned backwards and its feet facing forward, is a symbol in African-American and African Diaspora art. It represents the need to reflect on the past and build a successful future by understanding whatever was lost, forgotten or taken away can be reclaimed. Translated it means “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.”
That is exactly what Johnson has done.
One of NLSM’s most successful clients, she moved from homelessness to finding a job, a home and hopes and plans for the future.
She and her family had been chronically homeless for more than a year until matched to NLSM and its Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program, Project Hope where they began living in 2017.
With the assistance of her case manager and an ongoing housing subsidy, she completed training to be an intake specialist with TEAM Wellness and has been employed there for more than a year.
With the extra income her SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits were dramatically cut, and she accepted a full-time position with benefits. Johnson and her family were able to rent their dream home with NLSM case management advocacy.
Her ongoing case management also provided guidance for the entire household. Her son completed high school and now is serving in the United States Army. The family is thriving and eager to give back and help others find and understand Sankofa.
NLSM has helped many more forward.
Its housing department serves Detroit and Wayne County communities and helps about 350 households with rental assistance and support each year, says Jean Griggs, NLSM community director.
According to the organization, more than 96 percent of those who accept the help offered by NLSM reposition themselves from homelessness to a positive independent living housing destination.
The organization also provides legal advocacy for victims and survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence and HIV/Aids and senior citizens as well as runs educational programs for children.
It is looking for help to do more.
On August 8 NLSM will host its inaugural Summer Cruise Benefit to raise funds to support those services and continue making a difference in Detroit communities. It takes place at 6:00 p.m. on the Detroit Princess Riverboat. The event includes dinner and entertainment.
Tickets can be purchased online by clicking here. They are $60 and sponsorships are available.
NLSM’s clients face many challenges as they work to refocus their lives, and the organization has many services to help.
“We want to get them stable enough so they can handle rent on own,” Griggs says. “It takes time to develop better habits. Paying rent is a habit you have to develop. If you have been in a shelter for 30, 60, 90 days it has impacted your health. They are fragile when they come to us.
“We are always faced with trying to move these folks along as quickly as possible. Many people are in shelters and we have more people than we have shelters,” she says.
Griggs says NLSM is currently looking for a property where 8-10 individuals can safety stay for 24 months.
Once clients are ready to move on NLSM helps with rent. HUD grants allow the organization to pay landlords for a period of time, Griggs says. In Detroit that’s up to 18 months.
In addition, HUD awards help provide transitional rapid rehousing program for domestic violence and human trafficking victims.
None of grants NLSM has speak to bedding, beds, pots and pans and the NLSM is always looking for contributions, Griggs says. You can bring them to 7310 Woodward Ave. Suite 301 or call 313-964-1975 ex.1206 and leave a message.
The NLSM also offers legal services in civil matters, using staff attorneys, victim advocate attorneys, paralegals and law students. Its Legal Advocacy Center litigates thousands of cases for indigent and homeless clients. The Redford Michigan NLSM Elder Law and Advocacy Center (ELAC) assists hundreds of seniors each year in preventing elder abuse.
The Children’s Education Division provides street law programs, conflict resolution, alcohol and drug awareness and prevention instruction within City of Detroit public schools and other metropolitan Detroit districts. The organization has a contract with the Detroit School System, as well as Beecher School in Flint, to run the programs. There is even a drone class available.
“We are always looking for things to take on,” Griggs says.
The work is intense and does take a toll on the staff.
“I feel as if the staff is endeared to clients,” Griggs says. “They care. It does wear on the staff more than it should at times. On Fridays we do self-care. We have to take care of ourselves. It is very taxing to see the issues our fellow men and women are involved with. At times there is nothing you can do. There is no resolve.”
Still, NLSM is certainly following Sankofa – helping many go back, get what was taken and find a new path to success.