As Walt Doan tells it, the homeless often get treated like modern-day lepers. People may stop and donate a buck, but plenty of folks would sooner cross the street than associate with someone who’s down and out. Doan isn’t like most. In fact, he says he’d rather cross the street to give someone a hug than turn his back.
“We do what you won’t do,” said Doan, the President of Warriors for the Homeless. “We’ll reach out and put them right alongside us, live with them.”
Doan doesn’t just say that, he practices what he preaches. In fact, Doan currently lives with five felons. Many of the homeless that the group takes in struggle with drugs, an arrest record or a mental disability. That’s never scared Doan, or his staff, away from taking someone’s case on.
“They say, ‘You live with five felons? Aren’t you worried?’ No. Not at all. I’ve never had a worried night, once they get adapted into the house we have no problems. I’ve never had a major problem at any facility.”’
Until now, Warriors for the Homeless was focused on the west side of the state. Founded in Berrien County, the group has the lowest recidivism rate in the area — that means fewer men and women are finding their way back onto the streets. They’re growing as a nonprofit and shifting gears — a home recently bought and fixed up on the city’s east side will become WFTH’s first Detroit facility, the same place Doan made his living as a lumber salesman for 30-plus years. These days, he’s working less in building and more in rebuilding — rebuilding lives.
According to Doan, he always felt a calling to do more with his church. For a time, he thought he was being called upon to go to seminary school; late in life, he got a new calling. At 66 years old, he headed back to school for a mental health services degree and now he’s doing what he can to help the homeless get their lives back. People like Van King, one of his group’s latest success stories.
“God saw fit for me to get to Walt,” said King, before chuckling. “We just bonded… connected, then he tells me how he went to college at 66, and I’m like, ‘I’m 68, why not?’”
King is one of five guys being helped by WFTH that has found a path to sobriety included a path back to school.
After years of alcohol abuse, drug use and more than 20 trips to jail King got a wakeup call. He said other programs had tried to help him clean himself up, but something with Warriors for the Homeless clicked in a way that other chances hadn’t. Now he dreams of getting a college degree and using his experiences to help others like Doan helped him — he’s even planning to study social work.
“It hurts to look back,” said King. “But I have to look back to remind me of it, you know? It’s too easy to fall back into that.”
People like King are part of the Warriors for the Homeless model. Instead of building shelters or specialized facilities, the group rehabs homes and pairs guys who are well into their recovery with people who are new to the program under one roof.
The motto, “a hand up, not a handout,” pairs with a recovery process aimed at the quality of recovery rather than speed of recovery. It’s part of the reason they place men into homes in a community rather than a facility — they’re trying to build self-esteem and self-worth rather than churn people out. That means it takes a longer time to help people, but it also seems to be giving them a better chance at sticking to a better life when they leave the program. That’s why the group’s founders believe the success on the state’s west side has stuck.
The new facility on Detroit’s east side is located on Coram near 7 Mile and Gratiot — while the men haven’t come into the home yet the people behind the next facility are already introducing themselves to folks in the neighborhood. They’re planning a neighborhood party when they officially open. By then they expect to have a priest working in an office that’ll be located inside the home.
If you’d like to learn more about the Warriors for the Homeless, their mission, or how you can help you can learn more on the group's website. They’re looking for help as they continue their expansion throughout the state. That help spans from monetary donations, vehicles and more.