Detroit's fearless angel
Now and then, I need a Detroit gut check.
It comes when I'm feeling overwhelmed with my needs and those of the city. Just when I'm about to indulge in self pity, I think about Stephanie Taylor.
This city needs one Stephanie Taylor to balance every lousy scandal, every rotten apple, every miserable decision. Maybe then people would give Detroit some credit.
For the past decade, Taylor and her small crew have driven a van across Metro Detroit to find hidden homeless teens and runaways.
She brings sandwiches. Toiletries. Clean underwear. And a business card with the toll-free telephone number of Covenant House, the Westside non-profit organization where Taylor works.
Covenant House provides a home for troubled young adults across the city. Taylor is often the reason these teens ever know it exists.
“I call her a fearless angel,” said Sam Joseph, executive director of the faith-based organization. “Hers is a ministry of love.”
This street outreach is grim stuff. Taylor sees children with mental illnesses. There are the preteen prostitutes. There are boys who were kicked out of a foster home at 18 when the family's support checks stopped coming.
“You have to meet them where they are,” Taylor said. “They didn't have the same help you and me did. … They need someone there to advocate for them, to get them stable and to get them a home.”
Taylor and the volunteers who accompany her have literally saved lives. (And risked their own; no one carries a weapon. Taylor says she had depended on prayer for the past 11 years to keep her safe).
She often goes to doctor's appointments with these street kids. She will sit in a physician's office until someone agrees to admit a sick child, get them back on the right meds or whatever else needs to be done.
These are kids who are so abused they act like babies even when they have babies. One girl told Taylor she did not know how to comb her own hair. This girl, who was pregnant, had been through some 37 foster homes, but no one had ever given her the basic life skills to take care of herself.
“I was at the store, buying her sheets and a comforter and she asked me if she could get the ones with SpongeBob. That's what her mental state was like,” Taylor said.
Taylor says she looks at her job as an opportunity. The goal is to prevent these kids from feeling hopeless. She goes into some of Metro Detroit's nastiest holes because “that could be my son. That could be my daughter,” Taylor said.
“They think they deserve to be abused. That this is the only way to survive,” Taylor said. “Letting them know there is another way, getting those words out there where they live – it helps.”
Covenant House estimates there are some 5,000 homeless and runaway teens in and around Detroit at any given time. It houses about about 75 teens on its campus, helps dozens more find housing and educates another 1,000 or so at its three charter high schools – every day.
“We are really working. It's hard to meet every need. It's getting overwhelming,” Taylor said. “I pray every day to God and ask Him to help me do the best I can. … I tell them, ‘When you're weak, I'm going to be strong.'”
Since I started working on this blog, I have found so many people like Taylor. I keep trying to tell their stories to bring some insight to those here and elsewhere about the pride Detroiters have in themselves and the city.
Yes, we're in a crisis. I probably should be writing more about the horror show in our schools, city hall, state government. But I cannot stop running into amazing people who are doing things every day to change Detroit and Michigan into something better. I never felt more like an optimist than I have for the past month.
And I thank Taylor for that.