COTS celebrates 40 years of helping Detroit families

The Detroit organization tries to use a holistic approach to address the root causes of poverty and empower the next generation.

CEO Cheryl P. Johnson

COTS is an organization that has been working to lift Detroiters out of poverty since 1982. In its early days, COTS provided temporary housing to mostly single men and single-parent families but has since expanded to serve more residents.

This year, COTS is celebrating 40 years of service supporting Detroit families, with more than 50,000 people helped along the way. 

COTS offers a wraparound service, helping families into housing that will give them time to build and maintain stability. The organization tries to use a holistic approach to addressing the root causes of poverty.

The goal is to help families with a five-year plan, but there is no cutoff. Participants learn about five areas, or domains: housing, family stability, financial literacy, health and wellness and career goals.

“Just housing [people] and walking away and hoping that they are OK does not work,” says Dr. Cheryl P. Johnson, the CEO of COTS. “That’s obvious when you look at some of the recidivism that continues to happen when people come back into the shelter.”

Johnson says the goal is to help people not just make sure they’re healthy physically but also mentally, and “helping them to think not just around employment, which is important, but what do you want to set your passion to, on a long term basis, and then most importantly, making sure that you are grounded in education.

“We have to look at poverty and how to address that on a level that has generational impact.”— Cheryl P. Johnson, COTS

COTS has a two-generation approach, which means children also receive information aimed at helping them thrive.

Johnson says in her 30-plus years with the organization, she has learned that poverty creates ripple effects for families. “We’re dealing with just what we call a symptom of poverty, homelessness. We have to look at poverty and how to address that on a level that has generational impact.”

This year, the organization will also celebrate the reopening of its 26 Peterboro Building as the newly renovated Peterboro Arms Apartments. 

The $17 million renovation created 56 two- and three-bedroom apartment homes in Midtown Detroit, or the Cass Corridor.

The location offers more than housing; it gives residents access to health care centers, viable employment opportunities, healthy-living retailers; captivating arts, culture and entertainment venues; and even new modes of transportation.

Johnson says although all 56 units are full, space opens up because of the nature of the program and following the five domains.

“Yes, we have a list. But the important part is, those housing units, we don’t call it permanent housing for anybody, because the plan is for you to work on those five domains.”

Through partnerships with donors, volunteers, corporations, organizations and the broader community at large, COTS opens for future generations.

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  • Tia Graham
    Tia Graham is a reporter and Weekend Edition Host for 101.9 WDET. She graduated from Michigan State University where she had the unique privilege of covering former President Barack Obama and his trip to Lansing in 2014.