BY MICHAEL ODOM, VICE PRESIDENT, MARX LAYNE & COMPANY
DETROIT – As the nation reels from President Trump’s recent immigration ban, a decades-old Detroit organization providing critical services to refugees risks closing its doors after the loss of funding from the federal government. Freedom House Detroit is the only organization in the U.S. providing shelter, legal services and comprehensive social services at no charge and all under one roof for asylum seekers – refugees from around the world who are fleeing violence and persecution due to their political beliefs, religious affiliation, nationality, race or sexual orientation.
Located in a former convent near the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, Freedom House has served asylum seekers from across the globe since 1983. Last year, Freedom House served 136 men, women and children from 26 countries, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Latin America and the Middle East. They arrive at all times of the day or night, often with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing and a few belongings. The situations they are escaping are unspeakable – indeed, one of Freedom House’s services is intensive counseling to help residents deal with the trauma they have endured.
“It begins with a knock on the door,” says Deborah Drennan, Freedom House’s executive director. “It may be a man, a woman or an entire family. We invite them in, feed them, give them a place to sleep. In the morning, we begin the long process of applying for asylum in a country where they can find safety and begin a new life.”
For 20 years, more than half of Freedom House’s budget has come through funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In December 2016, Freedom House was informed that its HUD grant would not be renewed due to shifting priorities. The organization’s current HUD grant expires March 31. Freedom House is appealing the decision, but must find alternative sources of funding while the appeal moves forward – and in the event that the rejection still stands.
The rejection comes despite the fact that Freedom House is one of Detroit’s most successful HUD grantees – 93 percent of Freedom House’s clients exit the program into permanent, independent housing. Applicants are carefully screened to verify eligibility for political asylum. An exceptional 86 percent of Freedom House Detroit clients are able to achieve political asylum status – much higher than the national average. Gainfully employed, they move into the community and build a new life where they can live safely or, as Freedom House’s motto says, “where they can breathe free.”
Detroit has long been a beacon for asylum seekers due to its proximity to Canada. Services provided by Freedom House include temporary housing, food, and clothing; medical and behavioral health services; employment training, English as a Second Language and educational classes; and legal assistance in achieving political asylum status.
Freedom House is calling on the community for support so they can continue these critical services. Their goal is to raise $260,000 in the next three months. They are also in need of gift cards to local retailers such as Target, Meijer, Kroger. Freedom House will continue to provide full services to current residents but have stopped accepting new U.S. cases until their financial situation is stabilized and, sadly, have already had to turn away refugees in search of a safe place to stay.
Organizations that believe in the Freedom House mission are stepping up. Freedom House recently received a $25,000 contribution from the HOPE Fund (Helping Others through Partnerships and Education) in Southeast Michigan. Members of the community can help by signing the Petition to HUD: Restore Freedom House Funding launched to appeal the decision.
To make a contribution or for more information about the Freedom House, visit their website.
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