Heroes by Choice. Homeless by Chance.
A Story of Two American Heroes and their Journey Back from Homelessness.
Piquette Square for Veterans is a 150-unit apartment project in Detroit designed to house and care for homeless veterans. Developed by Southwest Solutions, Piquette Square was financed through a variety of public and private resources. Piquette Square offers mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, on-site job training, computer labs, educational programs and other supportive services to help homeless veterans develop healthy and independent living skills. When new residents move in, they are provided with furniture, food and necessities.
The perception that all homeless people are beggars, mentally ill, violent or addicts is common in our society. Chery Allen, Veterans and Volunteer Resource Facilitator at Southwest Solutions, works with the Veteran residents at Piquette Square. “When people come to us, a lot of the time their issues with homelessness are not alcohol, drug, or prostitution driven. A lot of people that come to us have come from circumstances beyond their control. We have Veterans living at Piquette that are not yet emotionally, mentally or physically able to go to work. Some of them may never be able to return to work. They are safe here, they aren’t living on the streets or under a bridge. But we also have a large pool of Veterans that are eager and willing to work.”
Rickey Wright grew up in a small town in Alabama. Living in a rural town that was recently integrated, the only African American professionals he saw were teachers – and he thought that was the best job an African American man could get. When Rickey moved to Nashville for college, he realized he could be anything he wanted and switched his major to pre-med. During college, he joined the ROTC, so when he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Pre-Med/Biology, he was also commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
Rickey’s acceptance to medical school allowed him to defer his active duty until he graduated and completed his residency. He finished medical school, then completed three years of training as a surgeon, eventually switching his studies to focus on emergency medicine and family practice. After his residency, Rickey became a flight surgeon for the Air Force, serving first at Dyess Air Force Base, then Kadena Air Force Base and finally at McClellan Air Force Base, where he served as a Major. Although the military was grooming him for a hospital commander position, he decided a desk job wasn’t for him and he retired. Rickey dedicated 9 years of his life to the Air Force.
Rickey was invited to join a private medical practice in Ohio that was integrating family care into a system that also provided chiropractic, physical therapy and massage therapy. After working there for two years, he bought the practice and ran it successfully for 15 years.
“I had to start over without anything. It’s been a long five years. Stressful, disappointing and humiliating; but, everything happens for a reason. Living at Piquette, I have my own place, my own identity. I’m more open now. I used to be an introvert, but I’ve meet some good people living here. Being Veterans give us a genuine camaraderie, something really special. This is just a step that’s going to make me a better physician in the long run. It’s made me humble and more compassionate, more sympathetic and empathetic.”
In 2010, Ricky was diagnosed with diabetes and it progressed to pancreatitis. “My bills piled up. I couldn’t work. Everything just collapsed. I couldn’t pay my mortgage. My house went into foreclosure. They took all my worldly possessions, even my diplomas. I lost everything that day. I lost my house, my practice, my cars. I lost my dignity. All in one fell swoop.”
Rickey traveled to Detroit in 2011 to recuperate with family. In November that year, he was hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis for the second time and nearly died. After recovering, he took a job working as a security officer. Then tragedy struck again.
“I was crossing Michigan Avenue and that is the last thing I remember. I was hit by a car. I broke most of the bones in my body – both arms were shattered, four bones in my back were broke, and every rib on my left side. The accident punctured my lung and my heart, it took all the cartilage out of my knees.”
When he recovered, a social worker in the hospital helped Rickey get into transitional housing at the Salvation Army in Detroit. He lived there for a year and a half before getting an apartment at Piquette Square. Rickey began working part-time jobs before landing a full-time position in the medical field – he works as a Community Health Associate at Partners 4 Health, a partnership of four leading health and human service agencies in Wayne and Oakland counties. Rickey volunteers as President of the local chapter of REBOOT, an organization that helps Veterans prepare for civilian life after service. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for Southwest Counseling Services.
Rickey is working on bringing his continuing education credits up to date so that he can get his medical license in Michigan. He wants to resume his practice in the next year. “That’s my hope. I’ve been out for five years and that is a long time to be away from something you love, something I’ve done my whole adult life. I want to work now with those that are less privileged. I want to work with a nonprofit or community based clinic so that I can give back. It’s taught me a lot living at Piquette. I’ve grown more. I’ll take a lot of that away with me, into everything I do in my personal and professional life.”
Glenda Mann has spent most of her life caring for others. She joined the United States Army following high school, serving her country for four years. After retiring from the Army, Glenda became a police officer for the City of Detroit. When a family member became ill, she quit her job and moved to California to care for her. She then spent several years moving around the United States, caring for friends and family in need. By the time she returned to Detroit, she had depleted her own resources taking care of others. Glenda spent time staying with friends and family before ending up homeless.
“I was couch surfing, living on what I called friends and families sympathetic sofas before ending up at the shelter. I had bed bugs and roaches crawling all over me, but I had a place to sleep. I was grateful to have a roof over my head. I have learned to adapt to a lot of environments and situations. I made it work for me, because you do what you have to.”
“Most investors, they wouldn’t try to see me like this, see me sitting here. I am a person. We are not debits on a balance sheet, people aren’t credits that belong on some list. We are people and sometimes, we need help. I thank you for being here and for seeing me. I thank you for investing in places like Piquette Square. I thank you for investing in me.”
While living at the shelter, Glenda took the bus to work at the Veterans Affairs kitchen. On her commute, she watched the progress of Piquette Square. At the time, she didn’t know it was going to be affordable housing for homeless veterans. She dreamed of one day having her own apartment in a building like Piquette.
Glenda applied for Section 8 housing and was overjoyed to find out Piquette Square had openings. “I was riding back and forth by this building every day when it was just a skeleton. I told myself someday, that will be my new apartment, that building will be my home. When I signed up for Section 8 housing and they said Piquette Square had an opening I thought to myself, God has listened to me, God has heard me. He knew this was where I should be before I even did. It became my mission to start where I was at and move forward.”
With support and guidance from the staff at Piquette, Glenda enrolled in college and graduated with her associates degree in computer information systems. She intends to complete her Bachelor’s degree, but is currently dedicating her time to volunteering. She was recently the project manager for the Jet Blue Soar with Reading program. As project manager, Glenda was responsible for coordinating the delivery of 100,000 books throughout Detroit. She was so dedicated to getting these free books into the hands of children in Detroit, she would often be seen riding her bike in the rain to get the work done. Glenda volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, Southwest Solutions and as a seamstress for the Piquette residents, providing free clothing repair and alterations.
Glenda is also focused on her role as President of the Piquette Square Tenants Council, a group she created so the residents could support each other. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a report estimating that 20 Veterans commit suicide a day. Many Veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and combat related guilt. Glenda hopes that the tenant council can be a valuable resource in preventing future suicides. “I wanted to form the tenant council so we could check up on each other. We are advocates for each other and check in on the residents here. he Veteran deaths that are happening – we don’t want those deaths to be in vain. Some of those deaths were preventable. We are a community here. We live together and take care of each other. We can band together to prevent future deaths.”
Glenda expressed her gratitude for the staff at Piquette Square and the investors who joined Southwest Solutions in developing this much-needed housing for Veterans in Detroit.
Total Development Cost
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Southwest Housing Solutions
Southwest Housing Solutions