South Oakland Shelter bringing hope to the homeless

It's an ambitious goal - to end homelessness altogether, but that's exactly what one local shelter is trying to do. With an emphasis on homeless prevention, sustainable housing solutions and career development, the South Oakland Shelter is well on its way.

"I never dreamed I'd find myself in this position, being homeless. No one ever does and it happened," says Greg Allen.

It's something you often hear when talking those without a home.Things are going well and then all of a sudden the bottom drops out.

"I lost my job and there was just not enough money to live," he says. The nightmare became a reality for Allen and what he thought was going to be two weeks on the streets became years.

"You get broken. I mean, it really starts to break you. You're ready to just give up, and when I got here that was the first amount of hope I'd had in probably two-and-a-half years," he says about the South Oakland Shelter, or SOS. It's a year-round rotating emergency shelter with the mission of ending homelessness. 

"The need is immense. We estimate there is between three and four thousand people that are homeless in Oakland County of varying degrees of need," says Ryan Hertz, CEO of SOS.

Each week, a different metro Detroit church or synogogue hosts the SOS guests. They provide overnight accommodations, three daily meals, transportation and fellowship.

"Of all the places that I've been of all the shelters I was in, this is the one that actually gets you housing and gets you on your feet so that you can really start your life again," Allen says.

Over the last five years the SOS has evolved into a housing organization the provides short term rentals assistance, permanent supportive housing and other services to people so they can get back on their feet. Former Rochester police officer Mark Van Poppelem is one of SOS's many volunteers.

"It's so important that people have self worth and many times when in these situation you lose that," he says. "I feel blessed."

Since its founding, SOS's emergency shelter has cared for close to 11,000 adults and 1,400 children, and their commitment to families doesn't end after they find a place to live. SOS offers in-home case management services for a year to assist clients in maintaining their housing and meeting other goals. Goals Allen says he may not have been able to meet without them.

"I would still be homeless, I have no doubt," he says. "South Oakland Shelter has been a real beacon, a real blessing for me."

You can support the SOS by attending an advanced screening of the indie film '99 Homes'. The film stars Andrew Garfield and Laura Dern. The advanced screening is Wednesday, September 9 at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak at 7 p.m. A $10 donation at the door will get you in.