United Way's 2-1-1 on the Go Helps the Homeless - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

United Way's 2-1-1 on the Go Helps the Homeless

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For a little over four years now, a program called 2-1-1 on the Go has silently been transforming lives in downtown Detroit. It is bringing hope to the hopeless through opportunities for the homeless.

"I just basically made a bad choice ... from a good life to the road of destruction," said Michael Smith, who used to be homeless.

Two years ago, Smith was one of 20,000 homeless men, women and children navigating the streets of Detroit just struggling to survive. He came from a good family and had a good career, that is until he started smoking crack.

"I went from a hard working person to a homeless person," Smith explained.

His story is not unique except for the ending. That is where Tamarra Hughes and Justin Petrusak come in.

"Homelessness is not a problem or a condition. Homelessness is a housing stat, and I think people forget that," said Petrusak.

The pair is part of a small, but mighty team working miracles everyday in the trenches of downtown Detroit through a program called 2-1-1 on the Go.

They look just like you and me on the outside, but to some they are angels who watch over people.

The United Way's 2-1-1 on the Go is an offshoot of the 2-1-1 call-in service that connects those in need to a plethora of resources in Southeastern Michigan. However, 2-1-1 on the Go provides face-to-face outreach to the homeless.

Alexis Alexander is the team leader.

"We spend a lot of time out in the community engaging those who want to be helped and really taking the time to get to know the right resources to plug them into," she said.

There are literally thousands of resources available, so many so a person battling mental illness, addiction, hopelessness or even someone new to the streets may have no idea where to start or may become overwhelmed. The 2-1-1 on the Go team is trained to guide the homeless through the complex web of social services.

"If you don't have valid ID because it's been quite some time since you've had a home, walking somebody through the steps of re-obtaining a birth certificate, figuring out how to get the $10 fee paid at the Secretary of State office," Alexander explained.

It starts with baby steps, but can end up transforming lives.

"It could be immediate shelter to get you off the streets. It could be housing assistance programs, which provide temporary assistance for a security deposit or rent payment. We also spend a lot of time getting to know the resources for income and employment," Alexander said.

If it sounds too good to be true, just ask Michael Smith.

"If it wasn't for United Way 2-1-1 on the Go, I'd probably still be out there in the streets," he said.

After six years of wasting away on the streets of Detroit, Smith hooked up with 2-1-1 on the Go at a local shelter. Now, he has a job, a home and a clear head, and he is praying his angels are able to touch many more just like him.

"If there's anyone out there that's crying up help, help is available," Smith told us.

Smith is just one of several hundred 2-1-1 on the Go success stories.

If you or someone you know needs help, it's just a call away. Pick up any phone and dial 2-1-1. That's where you'll find more information on this and other programs.

More from the United Way: http://www.liveunitedsem.org/issues/2-1-1

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