Formerly Homeless Tenant Wins Gold At Michigan Special Olympics

February 10th, 2010
Rydell at Michigan Special Olympics, flanked by Kathy Gordon (left) and Anne Morey-Franklin of Southwest Housing Solutions.

Approaching the finish line in first place, Rydell Cotton could hear the enthusiastic cheers of many people.

But none were louder than three women who work at Southwest Housing Solutions and who embraced him at the end of the Special Olympics race.

That embrace was rife with meaning, in many respects. Over the years, Southwest has wrapped its arms around Rydell and his mother, providing shelter from the elements and the opportunity to succeed.

Eight years ago, Rydell and his mother Elaine were homeless. It was winter, and they were living in an abandoned car near a church in southwest Detroit. A church employee suggested that Elaine contact a supportive housingspecialist at Southwest Solutions. Elaine then talked to Thomas Lawrence and explained her situation.

Elaine had worked for the post office for years until depression overwhelmed her. She had lost her home and her job, and had become addicted to drugs. She was also trying to care for her son who lives with a developmental disability.

Thomas coordinated housing and support services to help Elaine and Rydell. Elaine received mental health treatment at Southwest Counseling. She and Rydell were placed in the Cole Building, one of 22 apartment buildings in southwest Detroit revitalized by Southwest Housing to provide affordable and supportive housing to those in need.

Elaine and Rydell still live in the Cole. Elaine continues to struggle with her illness and addiction. She has faced eviction many times, but each time the “Blended Management Team” at Southwest put together an eviction prevention plan.

In the Blended Management model, property managers at Southwest Housing work closely with the tenants and specialists at Southwest Counseling to engage support services and set goals to help tenants remain in their apartments. This model is unique and inventive. It is one of the reasons that Southwest Counseling won the 2009 award for Excellence in Innovation, presented by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Lately, Elaine and Rydell have fallen again on hard financial times. Elaine lost her job and the health insurance that went with it. Rydell helps out by working three days a week bagging groceries. On those days, he takes a bus at 6:30 in the morning to get to the supermarket.

Despite all the struggles, the apartment in which Elaine and Rydell live feels very much like home. It is inviting and well maintained.

Elaine says that she and her son have very different personalities. “I am a trip and I can be really hard to get along with,” Elaine says. “Rydell is very easy-going and gets along with everyone.”

Rydell says that he enjoys competing in the Special Olympics because of the friendly arena where everyone encourages each other. He has been competing in the Michigan games since 1994. He is 36 years old.

At the recent State Winter Games in Traverse City, Rydell won gold medals in two cross-country skiing events. (See the video of Rydell’s race.) In all his years of competing, he has now won almost 80 medals in total. These last two medals hold special meaning for him, he says, because they were witnessed by the three women from Southwest Housing.

“I didn’t know they would be there and I was excited when I saw them,” Rydell says. “They’ve done a lot for my mom and me and it was so cool to win the races with them there.”

Anne Marie DeRosier, Kathy Gordon and Anne Morey-Franklin – who all work for Southwest Housing – volunteered at the Winter Games. Ann Marie is also a real estate agent, and her company, Real Estate One, is a key sponsor ofMichigan Special Olympics. She asked her Southwest colleagues to go with her for the Traverse City event. They did not know that Rydell would be there.

“We were thrilled to see our favorite athlete medal in two events,” Anne Marie says. “The fact that it was his birthday and the crowd sang to him while he was on the medal stand was icing on the cake. Rydell embodies the spirit of the games. He puts everything into each of his events and cheers on his fellow athletes, while having fun the whole time, win or lose.”

See the video of Rydell at the podium.

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