Detroit seeks $50M to fund programs under Duggan's 'People Plan'

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is aiming to raise $50 million over five years to help fund a series of programs for thousands of Detroiters who've felt "left behind or left out."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan put out a call just over a week ago to more than 100 corporate and philanthropic partners for what his administration has dubbed the People Plan. It encompasses six programs, including help for adults seeking to obtain high school diplomas, skilled trades training and door-to-door support programs.

Each has been put into action in varying degrees over the past year, but dedicated funding will help Detroit keep them going and scale them up, said Nicole Sherard-Freeman, executive director of the city's workforce development and job training.

Sherard-Freeman said the plan was crafted in response to Duggan's request for a strategy "that would provide an opportunity for everybody in Detroit that wanted one."

"There are so many resources out there, but if you don't have someone to help you navigate and weave them together, then it's the same as not having any resources at all," she said.

Nicole Sherard Freeman, Executive Director of Workforce Development, addresses the media about plans to redevelop the former state fairgrounds site in Detroit.

The mayor announced the fundraising drive Wednesday as he declared his bid for a third term.

Among the initiativesare a gun-violence reduction program, paid high school completion and skilled-trade training, Detroit at Work's entrepreneurship training academy and the Detroit Community Health Corps, unveiled in August to help struggling families with utility payments, housing and job prospects. 

Duggan said the People's Plan is designed to combat structural racism, poverty and inadequate educational opportunities that have held back Detroiters for generations.

The city, he said, "is going to find ways to step in and help you get over those barriers."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks before a ground breaking ceremony for Osi Art Apartments @ West End on Grand River in Detroit, Michigan on October 15, 2020.

Sherard-Freeman said Duggan touched on elements of the plan in his February State of the City address, including Learn to Earn, a GED completion partnership with Detroit Public Schools Community District that rolled out in July. The program pays participants $10 an hour, up to 20 hours per week for as many as six months.

Tens of thousands of Detroiters don't have high school diplomas and previously, she said, there were only three sites across the city for adults to work toward obtaining one.

"People have lives. You dropped out of high school for a reason," she said. "Picking up your life at this point and catching three buses to get to your program just isn't practical."

The city has secured about $2.5 million for its initial $10 million goal from General Motors Co., Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Rockefeller Foundation and United Way for Southeast Michigan. 

GM has committed $1 million for one year and will evaluate the program after, said Terry Rhadigan, executive director of corporate giving for GM. 

"To us, it's an investment in providing and developing a pipeline of skilled talent," he said.

Sherard-Freeman said officials expect that the first year of funding with help 2,000 Detroiters. If they continue to see successes, they'll solicit donors annually for the full five years. 

"We've got very small numbers of people in these programs, enough to come to you and say confidently 'Look, we're trying it. It's working. It's making a difference. Please, invest,'" she said. 

Resident Torrence Poellnitz is in a pre-apprentice carpentry training program as part of the city's "Get Paid to Learn a Trade." The program partners with the Emerging Industries Training Institute. 

The training started eight weeks ago and once Poellnitz completes the program on Jan. 22, he will have the option to join the city-based firms Go Green Contracting or Gayanga, which collaborated with the city and training institute to develop the program curriculum.

Poellnitz, 32, said his father, who died of lung cancer in September, built a career in construction and he was motivated to go through the program in his honor. Graduates earn $20-an-hour to start and Poellnitz plans to pursue work in asbestos abatement. 

"They support you," he said. "It gives you the extra courage of 'I can do this and stick with it.'"

In the six years before COVID-19, Detroit's unemployment rate dropped from 20% in 2013 to 7.6% in 2019, according to government statistics.

Just prior to COVID-19, resident employment in February was near an all time high, with 230,772 Detroiters employed, based on figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By May, with statewide shutdowns to stem spread of the virus, the city dropped to a low of 162,776 residents employed. That's since rebounded, with 220,000 residents back on the job. 

Sherard-Freeman credits part of the recovery to 4,100 Detroit residents accepting jobs with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV at plants in Sterling Heights and Warren.

There will be 3,850 jobs at the new $1.6 billion Mack Assembly Plant on Detroit's east side and another 1,100 added jobs once the adjacent Jefferson North Assembly Plant gets a $900 million update.

But The Detroit News this week reported it remains unclear how many applicants seeking roles at Chrysler's east side assembly plant will end up working there. 

Detroit's poverty rate dropped almost 10 percentage points from 2015 to 2019, from 39.8% to 30.6%, Sherard-Freeman said.

The city hopes to drop it another 10 points in the next five years through the programs that will provide an opportunity to "correct a credential gap," give support to budding businesses and pay residents learn a new trade "to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty," she said. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Kalea Hall contributed.