In 1983, horrified by reports of political torture and murder in El
Salvador, a group of Detroiters came together to help refugees who had
fled that country and were arriving in the city in droves due to its
proximity to Canada. Existing homeless shelters were unable to meet the
particular legal, medical, language and resettlement needs posed by this
refugee population. Residents of Windsor, Ontario, with the same
concerns joined with the U.S. group to form the Detroit/Windsor Refugee
Coalition, specifically for refugees and asylum seekers.
The Canadians' assistance was especially valuable because, at the time,
asylum in Canada was more readily available. Refugees who could not
secure asylum in the United States were taken to the Canadian Customs
and Immigration Station in Windsor, where someone from the coalition
would offer them housing.
St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Corktown was the coalition's first site
for its office and temporary housing for the refugees. The Rev. Glendon
Heath, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, was the
coalition's first coordinator. The passionately dedicated Sr. Kit
Concannon assisted Fr. Heath and became coordinator when he moved to a
The coalition's reputation spread rapidly throughout the U.S. and the
number of refugees seeking assistance grew. The housing at St. Peter's
Church quickly became inadequate, so the coalition moved to the unused
Ste. Anne's convent in southwest Detroit, which remains our home today.
During the incumbency of Janet Ray, a tireless, visionary and committed
coordinator, our name was changed to Freedom House.
Since our founding the refugees arriving at Freedom House have reflected
the areas of conflict and turmoil in the world. From the El Salvadorans
of the 1980s, we saw many refugees from the Middle East in the 1990s
and Somalians after the crisis in that country in 1992. Today the vast
majority of our residents come from sub-Saharan Africa, especially
Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Cameroon. We also see
several refugees from Latin America and the Middle East. We continue to
assist refugees who wish to enter Canada, but now nearly all of our
clients seek asylum in the United States.