As the days and nights grow colder, we’re thinking about people in our city struggling to secure permanent housing. Many Detroit organizations work to provide individuals and families with emergency shelter, supportive housing, eviction and property tax assistance, supplemental rent and more. 

“The need has definitely increased, especially with COVID-19 and all the ramifications from that,” said Kristen Cibulskis, engagement director at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “What has also happened is volunteerism has gone down. We can understand why. (Volunteers) may have lost their jobs, or they may have lost a loved one to COVID-19. There’s been a lot of hardships not just for the people who need help, but for our volunteers as well.”

The nonprofit runs an online portal that lets users find volunteer opportunities at hundreds of organizations in the region. Whether folks feel comfortable serving remotely or in person, one time or regularly, United Way’s goal is to match individuals with a mission that sparks a drive to help others and doesn’t leave them feeling burned out.

Several Detroit organizations need help to get through this busy time of year. Others hope to stay on your radar as worthy of your support once the holiday hustle and bustle disperses. Here are just a few to remember as you use your time and resources to bring good to others.

Need help with housing or basic needs this season? In addition to the resources offered by the organizations listed below, you can call United Way’s 211 helpline 24 hours a day for housing, food and other referrals. For shelter placements in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck, call 313-305-0311. If you have a question or need other assistance, you can speak with an Outlier reporter — text DETROIT to 67485.


For decades, COTS has provided emergency shelter for vulnerable individuals and families while helping them secure stable housing and achieve self-sufficiency. More than 2,000 homeless and at-risk men, women and children annually receive the emergency care and support they need here. 

COTS welcomes volunteers to its Midtown headquarters and Peggy’s Place Family Shelter on the city’s west side. Whether you want to help prepare and serve meals, do light cleaning, organize food pantries or help with craft and storytime activities, there’s a spot here for your talents. To volunteer, sign up or email Rachel Minion at Looking for a drop-in option or volunteering with a group? COTS also has a list of available volunteer roles

Donations: COTS needs baby formula (powder or liquid), diapers size 1-5, toddler training pants, baby wipes, children’s socks, hygiene items, twin and full-size bedsheets, shower shoes, snacks and on-the-go breakfast items. Clothing needs for adults and children include undershirts, underwear and pajamas in all sizes. Arrange a donation by calling COTS at 313-831-3777.

Cass Community Social Services

Cass Community Social Services (CCSS) provides food, housing, health services and job programs. The nonprofit gives nightly refuge to more than 300 homeless women and children at its shelters and permanent supportive housing programs. 

Community liaison Rev. Sue Pethoud said with COVID-19 lessening and more people getting vaccinated, there’s a renewed need for volunteers at CCSS. She said the organization is operating with about half of its usual volunteer staff. “The people we serve have come back. We’re at that point. But we haven’t gotten the volunteer group in sync yet,” she said. “I think people are still just apprehensive about being out and with people they don’t know.”

In terms of safety procedures, she said, “We know a lot more now, and so we feel safe bringing volunteers back in. And we do everything to keep them safe.”

Holiday donations: Each December, the organization opens the Cass Christmas Store, where parents and caregivers associated with the organization can freely obtain gifts for their families. The store provides gifts to more than 500 kids annually, and you can help stock this store in three ways:

  • Purchase youth gifts in bulk or multiple sets and drop them off at 11745 Rosa Parks Blvd. before Dec. 17. 
  • Order presents online through CCSS’s Amazon or Target wish list.
  • Donate funds for CCSS “angels,” who do last-minute shopping to keep the Christmas Store stocked.

More donations: Beyond the holidays, the organization accepts donations of nonperishable items, twin-size bedsheets, blankets, bath towels and washcloths at 11745 Rosa Parks every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Volunteering: CCSS needs daily kitchen volunteers from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m., except for Sunday mornings. Volunteers are also needed to help maintain the buildings, grounds and activity center, as well as to create green projects. The agency can accommodate groups as small as two people or with as many as 100 volunteers at a time. Email Rev. Sue Pethoud at or call 313-883-2277 ext. 203 to schedule. Are you interested in staying overnight or volunteering multiple days? Learn more about this experience by reading CCSS’s volunteer brochure.

New Life Rescue Mission

At its space on Michigan Avenue west of Corktown, New Life Rescue Mission has been sharing warm meals, a Bible message and refuge with homeless men for over 60 years. Also known as “Kelly’s Mission,” the organization has been family-owned and operated by the Kelly family for multiple generations. The mission opens its doors daily from 4-6 p.m., and guests leave at 6 a.m. Volunteer groups provide meals for the 30 or more men that stay each night. 

Donations and volunteering: To help keep its community warm, New Life Rescue Mission needs hand warmers and thermal underwear, size L to XXL. Contact Bill Kelly at 734-765-9858 to donate or volunteer to prepare a meal for the mission.

Ruth Ellis Center

Since 1999, Ruth Ellis Center (REC) has provided long and short-term safe space and support services for runaway, homeless and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth in Detroit and nearby cities. The nonprofit emphasizes the care of young people of color, those involved in the child welfare system and youth experiencing barriers to health and well-being. REC runs two programs to connect youth and their families to safe and stable housing. 

The Kelly Stough Project, named to honor the memory of a lost member of the REC community, serves survivors of human trafficking who identify as LGBTQ+. The Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center opened this fall in Detroit, providing 43 units of permanent supportive housing and wrap-around services for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. REC’s Rapid Re-Housing program helps young adults ages 18 and up stabilize through rental support, relocation costs, utility assistance and case management around transportation, food and employment needs.

Volunteering: In mid-January, the nonprofit will launch new volunteer programming, including cooking at its drop-in center, cleaning, organizing, landscaping, sending mailers, assisting with events and more. To volunteer, fill out the contact form on REC’s homepage or check the website in mid-January for updates.

Donations: REC accepts nonperishable food, feminine products, bottled water and hygiene items on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its drop-in center at 77 Victor St. in Highland Park.

Neighborhood Service Organization

Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) is one of the largest providers in the city for alleviating and resolving chronic homelessness. It provides services for seniors with mental illness; children, youth and adults with developmental disabilities; homelessness recovery; housing development and community outreach for psychiatric emergencies. NSO has housed hundreds of homeless individuals through its emergency shelter and supportive housing apartments. The organization works to pair housing and emergency shelter with case management and supportive services, including behavioral health.

Volunteer: NSO is looking for individuals to help organize and manage their clothing donations and for groups to help prepare or sponsor a meal for 70 people at the organization’s emergency shelter. Volunteers are also needed for office work, event planning and pantry management. If you have a life skill or artistic talent you’d like to share with NSO’s community, email to volunteer.

Donations: You can buy an Amazon gift to support families and individuals with household goods for formerly homeless clients, essentials for people at their shelter facility, or other items from NSO’s wish lists. Want to engage your community? Host a drive to provide NSO with warm weather gear, school supplies, toys or toiletries.

Detroit Phoenix Center

Detroit Phoenix Center (DPC) responds to the needs of Detroit’s underserved youth. It provides critical resources and a safe, nurturing environment for young people transitioning from homelessness and poverty. Guests can access showers, meals, laundry facilities, computer labs and basic needs at DPC’s Zen Zone Drop-In Center

Volunteer: DPC welcomes volunteers in several areas, including virtual mentors and tutors, donation intake, internship and practicum experience and more. Check out their ongoing opportunities.

Donations: Want to sponsor a young person in need for the holiday season? DPC’s donations page explains the cost of providing a young person with public transportation, groceries, sanitary items, monthly phone service, emergency shelter and supportive housing. 

Ongoing donations of nonperishable foods, headphones, grocery store gift cards, hygiene products, towels and washcloths, school supplies and bus passes are welcome. Email to schedule a time to drop off items.

Freedom House Detroit

Freedom House Detroit welcomes people from around the world who are fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the U.S. or Canada. The Southwest Detroit-based organization provides emergency shelter and food to more than 100 refugees a year, as well as legal aid, medical care, counseling, language tutoring, housing support, job training and more. 

Donations: There are several ways to support Freedom House. View the organization’s Amazon wish lists to select personal care gifts, clothing basics, home goods and cleaning supplies. Fill out this form to turn your old vehicle into cash to bolster operation costs.

Want to get involved with creating an event aimed to spark joy and respite for Freedom House clients? Recruit friends and family to help you Adopt-a-Party over the next 12 months. Whether you want to help create a Celebration of Light on Christmas Eve, a New Year’s Eve dance party or a birthday bash, you can find out more at Ways to Engage.

Bethlehem House of Detroit

For almost 20 years, Bethlehem House of Detroit founder Deborah Foster has offered transitional housing on Detroit’s lower east side for working women. In the house her parents left her and another she purchased across the street, four women live together for up to one year as they save money, clean up their credit, and build community. Residents pay $90 per week to have their own bedroom, share communal spaces, and access cooking, laundry, a library and computers. Each woman has a key to the home, with one serving as house manager, and can come and go on her schedule. Foster aims to help working women with financial struggles get back on their feet. Bethlehem House Detroit receives no government funding but is supported by organizations and individuals.

Donations: Bethlehem House Detroit needs paper and plastic products, particularly during COVID-19, including paper towels, plates, toilet paper and bottled water. Email to set up a donation drop-off at 5063 Van Dyke St. You can also contribute to living expenses for women at Bethlehem House. 

Volunteer: Bethlehem is looking for a group of painters to freshen up rooms inside their houses next year and individuals to help with spring landscaping. Email to volunteer.

The Coalition for Property Tax Justice

The Coalition For Property Tax Justice is a collective of several Detroit grassroots organizations formed around three goals: stop unconstitutional property tax assessments, compensate Detroit residents who overpaid or have already lost their homes and suspend all tax foreclosures of owner-occupied dwellings until the over-assessments are amended.

The city overtaxed homeowners by at least $600 million between 2010 and 2016, fueling foreclosure and displacement. The Coalition For Property Tax Justice educates and organizes Wayne County residents and justice advocates to pressure state and local government leaders to prioritize restitution. Want to join their fight for housing justice in Detroit? Check out the Coalition’s website to see how you can take action, and visit Facebook to stay current on its work. 

Sarah Williams is a freelance journalist based in metro Detroit. Follow her on Instagram @sarahwilliamstoryteller.