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Pathways to Opportunity for the Most Vulnerable

Economic inclusion and transitional housing that equips the most vulnerable to join the movement of the Corktown and Southwest Neighborhoods

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Mobility resources are no help to residents afraid to leave their homes for fear of deportation. Recent immigrants, asylum seekers, and undocumented persons, in particular, are among the most vulnerable residents in the Detroit area. Southwest Detroit has the largest concentration within the city of such persons. We want to see a Southwest Detroit that welcomes recent immigrants and connects them with opportunities--opportunities to live, work, and build a life.

The work of the Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center in this community for the last five years places us in a unique position. We serve hundreds of these most vulnerable persons every year. At the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in Southwest Detroit, we help meet their legal needs, which include resolving their residency status, finding safe places to live, and earning income to start a new life in Detroit. Each of these presents a unique challenge. Our legal services program has been extremely successful in helping this population, but there are very few resources for housing and employment.

We offer our clients the possibility of unlocking the freedom they should be experiencing in Southwest Detroit: the freedom to move openly in their community, the freedom to take part in community events and access community services, the freedom to pursue the normalization of their legal residency status without fear that asking for help will end in their deportation.

To help address this, we are proposing two new programs.

  • Transitional Housing for Asylum Seekers. Housing is a foundational need, but due to their residency status, undocumented persons and asylum seekers are unable to take advantage of traditional housing assistance. They cannot be the beneficiary of any federal funds; any program that receives HUD or federal support is restricted from helping them. This means they are excluded from almost all housing supports presently available. Recent immigrants will be able to stay in our housing for up to a year as they build community connections and establish themselves in the area.

  • Small Business Incubator for Recent Immigrants. Many recent immigrants do not have the authorization to work, but anyone can own a business in the United States and receive profits from it. Small Business ownership represents an avenue to generating income and creating a life that is uniquely beneficial for our clients. We will offer coaching, workspace, office resources, and help in securing funding. We plan to work with local partners like ProsperUs Detroit to leverage their proven program for assisting people in taking the first steps toward starting a business and supplement with our services.

The Ford Resource and Engagement Centers are the ideal space for our free legal clinics, but to help with housing and income-generation, we need our own space. We have purchased a building in Southwest Detroit from the Detroit Land Bank. It is the ideal space for both housing and a small business incubator, but it needs a significant renovation to become a viable program space. Our plan would see the top two floors turned into apartments capable of housing up to four small families. The first floor and basement would be dedicated to a shared work environment for our incubator clients, educational program space, as well as offices and secure storage for our legal work.

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

We seek to help create opportunities for the most vulnerable residents in Michigan Central Station’s impact area. There are already asylum seekers and other undocumented persons living in great concentrations in Southwest Detroit and surrounding neighborhoods. We already serve them every week at our free legal clinic. We will offer safe, stable housing for persons who otherwise would be staying with friends or homeless. We will offer stability in housing and the avenue to generating legitimate income. This can be the springboard to start a refugee on their new life in Detroit.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Prototype - you have built a prototype and tested it with potential users

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)

Our work at the FREC has allowed us to help hundreds of impact area residents. We know that housing is a foundational need; nothing else is possible until you have a place to call home. For many of our clients without work authorization, it looks easier and safer to work outside of the traditional economy and staying off government records. Owning a business, however, provides an opportunity for unauthorized workers to earn income legally, but the barriers appear to be impossible to overcome.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center is the largest provider of free and low-cost legal services in the Detroit area. We operate three walk-in legal clinics where we help anyone who comes to us with any legal issue. Kevin Piecuch is our executive director and principal attorney. Adam Delezenne is Director of Operations and Outreach. He came to SWIRC a career in outdoor ministries and is a small business owner.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Team or Organization URL

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • Yes

Funding Request

  • $250,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

We anticipate approximately $545,000 in renovation costs for the project and are currently building up to the public launch of a capital campaign. Program costs will be roughly $45,000 per year to operate the programs. Total project cost, including a year of operation, is projected at $590,000.

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

Usable and appropriate space is key to both of our concepts. Our partnership with the FREC could provide teaching and working space as a pilot for the business incubator. We are already in preliminary discussions with ProsperUs Detroit, a project of Global Detroit that does entrepreneurship workshops for recent immigrants and low-income residents. A program like ProsperUs would provide the initial business training and support in developing a business plan. We would provide working space and the follow-up support to help clients get their idea off the ground.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Two primary measures are essential: the degree of client success and our learning in being able to improve the program. A big question that will be important for our client is the about of time until they can generate a profit. Many small businesses are not profitable in the early years. Our clients will have less tolerance for this. We hope that by mobilizing resources like our space and support, in-kind donations of needed equipment, and facilitating access to efficient small-scale capital and grants, we can speed their path to profit. We have helped clients with the initial legal steps to incorporate a business, but walking with them down the road will be a new territory for us. What kind of support is most helpful? What business administration resources are hardest for people to acquire on their own? What kind of growth is realistic to look for from our clients?

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

The effort to renovate the Southwest Detroit property and offer programs there is just part of a larger plan to shift the nature of our organization. The nature of our work means that we will never have a sustaining fee for service model. Instead, sustainability is going to mean pursuing several avenues for generating income at the same time. A small part of that is client fees. A small part of it may be revenue from the business consulting we plan to offer. Most of it will come from a better-de

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