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Travel through time with Common Ground.

A history: Our organization then

Common Ground was founded in 1971 by a group of students, parents and community leaders who were concerned about an increase in substance use and suicide rate among young people. In 1974, another group of volunteers began The Sanctuary, Inc. in response to the growing number of runaway youths in Oakland County. The residential counseling program for runaway and homeless youths, ages 10 through 17. This program offered youths assistance to resolve the conflicts that led them to leave home.

In 1998 Common Ground merged with The Sanctuary, Inc. – both of which had served Oakland County since the early 1970s. The merger made it so those in crisis could access a single source of help, and a unified approach to meeting community needs, that enabled both organizations to expand their services significantly. 

Our organization now

Today, Common Ground is a 24-hour crisis services agency dedicated to helping youths, adults and families in crisis. Through our crisis line and in person, we provide professional and compassionate services to more than 165,000 people each year.

Common Ground History

In response to a growing number of people experimenting with drugs and hallucinogens, a small group of students at Lahser High School wanted to help their peers. Word spread to the other area high schools (Andover, Seaholm and Groves) and in March 1969, a meeting was scheduled at the Birmingham Unitarian Church. There, 100 attendees discussed the possibility of setting up a program where young people could help each other with their problems. The group called the project “Open Suburbs” and met regularly to investigate legal issues, set tentative goals and research the communities that might benefit from such an organization. 

By April 1970, the students had completed their efforts and began searching for financial support. As it happened, a group of parents and community leaders had also become concerned about drug abuse and formed a group called the Community Action Council (CAC). Incorporated in June 1970, the CAC’s purpose was to form a coordinated effort to help solve the problem of drug and substance use in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township. Thus, the Open Suburbs group, aided by an Oak Park physician, submitted funding proposal to the CAC and received $6,000 to establish a “rap house.” 

Open Suburbs was renamed Common Ground and began operating in a small house on Park Street in Birmingham in July. It was staffed by volunteers, most aged 16 through 19, and a part-time administrator who was hired by the CAC to oversee the overall operation. 

In September, they held the first-ever volunteer training session in our history. Out of 60 trainees, 20 were chosen to be Common Ground counselors. Narrowing it down even further, a seven-member steering committee was chosen to establish house policies, and they formed a Board of Directors – composed of four members of the steering committee and four adult friends of Common Ground. Additionally, a full-time administrator and counseling coordinator were hired. Together, they outlined a five-phase program: (1) to maintain a drop-in center that would provide peer counseling; (2) provide training in crisis intervention and professional backup; (3) provide free medical services for those who needed them; (4) provide free legal services and (5) establish leisure time programs. 

By December 1970, Common Ground had already outgrown its Park Street location and moved to 279 South Woodward in Birmingham. At that time in our history, there were three crisis lines, and a full-time administrator and counseling coordinator were hired. 

In January 1971, an acute-care medical clinic staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses was established and began operating two nights a week. In October, a free legal consultation program – open one night per week – began with a volunteer staff. That year, those two programs served more than 3,000 people and was selected as one of the 10 most innovative programs in the state, as defined by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Meanwhile, the CAC found it was most effective in raising funds and overseeing projects, and changed its focus from coordination to those objectives. 

A young priest was hired in May 1972 to organize alternative leisure-time programs for young people, and in August, a public affairs coordinator was hired to help publicize Common Ground’s many different activities. That year, an evaluation project also concluded “Common Ground offers more services per dollar than any other crisis intervention center in the U.S.” (that the group knew of, at least).

In 1973-1975, many crisis centers went out of business due to lack of community involvement and licensing restrictions. Common Ground, however, survived by developing a more formal organizational structure to comply with new legal requirements, and focusing on education and prevention rather than on treatment. 

In June, Common Ground moved to larger quarters at 1090 South Adams in Birmingham, with help from The Kresge Foundation.

By 1974, the CAC decided it would maintain a shell operation and it became Friends of Common Ground – generating financial support and community assistance. A new director took over and declared the agency’s mission was to “help people, especially youths, find a meaningful outlet, understand themselves better and grow from there.” This was a change from focusing on drug and drug-related problems, which by 1974 made up only 10% of Common Ground’s caseload. 

In 1975, the agency won an award for excellence in alternative programs for youth (National Search Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse) and was named the outstanding program for drug abuse prevention in Michigan by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. At this point, the agency had a paid staff of seven, 250 volunteers, an annual budget of $150,000 and a focus on crisis situations. 

The year 1976 began auspiciously as the city of Birmingham declared January to be Common Ground month. There was a renewed emphasis on prevention programs and public efforts began to clarify that Common Ground was an organization dealing with more than just drug problems. 

In 1977, Common Ground volunteers gave 65 presentations to various groups on new programs and services, suicide, rape, adolescent development, and crisis intervention techniques. A new statement of purpose was developed, stating Common Ground intended to respond to the needs and interests of the community, especially teenagers and young adults, by offering services, developing open, flexible program planning, and by working with other agencies to improve the quality of services available to the community. Daytime crisis counseling on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. was added to the evening crisis counseling that had been ongoing since 1971. Crisis intervention clients increased to 175 monthly, and after the communities were rocked by the Oakland County Child Killer, Common Ground responded by developing a crisis intervention program to help people cope. 

In 1979, Common Ground contracted with Community Mental Health (CMH) as a backup service. 

Common Ground served a total of 13,140 people in all programs in 1981. 

By 1982, Common Ground had a contract with Oakland County Community Mental Health to provide overnight mental health crisis intervention services. Contracts with CMH and the Office of Substance Abuse amounted to about 53% of its annual budget. 

That year, Common Ground counselors also assisted in a peaceful ending to a 44-year-old Vietnam veteran’s siege, having held Royal Oak police and fire at bay for five hours, threatening to overdose on drugs and set his house on fire. 

Common Ground started a group to produce programs for public-access TV.

Common Ground noted it was seeing changes in community members’ problems, as a result of the recession. This included more domestic violence, suicide, homicide and alcoholism. 

In 1985, Common Ground was still the only walk-in agency in the metro Detroit area. The operating budget was $475,000, 60% of which came from Oakland County contracts to provide emergency crisis work during nights, weekends and holidays, and prevention work in substance abuse. The other 40% was privately raised. 

By 1988, the agency’s budget was $680,000, about 60% from state and county agencies, and the remaining 40% from private contributions. 

In 1989, having outgrown its space in Birmingham, Common Ground moved to Royal Oak. Common Ground was also certified by the American Association of Suicidology, which signified the organization had met or exceeded specific standards in administration, training, service delivery in life-threatening crises, ethical issues, community integration and program evaluation. 

In November 1991, Common Ground responded to a tragic shooting at the Royal Oak Post Office. Eight postal workers were shot and five people died, including the shooter. Crisis counselors assisted the survivors with emergency emotional aid. 

The total number of clients served was 25,178. 

In May, the crisis and emergency services moved to 853 North Woodward in Pontiac, across from St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. The administrative services moved to 7 South Perry Street in Pontiac and the Henrie facility became a crisis residential unit. The budget was $800,000 and the agency served 18,045 clients. 

In 1996, there were about 80 volunteers handling approximately 20,000 calls a year on the crisis line and a paid staff of 80 as the agency began doing mental health screenings for Oakland County. 

On July 1, Common Ground and The Sanctuary, Inc. merged and became Common Ground Sanctuary. (Volunteers began The Sanctuary in 1974 to respond to the growing number of runaway youths in Oakland County. The organization began with a residential treatment program in Pleasant Ridge for homeless young people ages 10 through 17. In 1979, the program was moved to a home in Royal Oak. In 1986, The Sanctuary expanded its services to young people ages 16 through 21 by developing A Step Forward to assist these age groups in developing the skills and ability to live independently. More and more services were offered and by 1997, The Sanctuary was well established in Oakland County.) The two organizations decided their services complemented each other and the merger made the combined agency’s programs the most comprehensive in the state of Michigan. 

Also in 1998, Common Ground won a contract with Oakland County Community Mental Health to provide emergency psychiatric services for the county. The budget increased to $6,700,000 and Common Ground moved its services to a new location on Woodward Avenue, near St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

In 2003, the budget was $7.5 million and Common Ground served more than 35,000 people (but once again faced a space crisis). 

In 2004, Common Ground served more than 40,000 people facing crisis and received two grants to open an outpatient counseling program for runaway and homeless youths. We also created a Domestic Abuse Support Group within the Victim Assistance Program (VAP) and started a mobile crisis unit to go directly to individuals experiencing crisis. 

In 2005, Common Ground was selected to serve as the Oakland County partner for the 2-1-1 call center, a multi-lingual information and referral telephone service developed by United Way for southeastern Michigan. We also received accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). 

Common Ground was honored by the Community Foundation with a grant of $25,000 and moved to the Doctors’ Hospital in Pontiac. 

The in-person crisis center served 5,735 clients, while 21,500 people were supported on the telephone crisis line. 

In 2010, our mobile crisis unit expanded to serve clients in Genesee County and we started a mental health first aid program to educate people on how to assist those in crisis. Crisis-related services were provided to 51,362 individuals/families. 

Through the agency’s strategic planning process, Common Ground formalized its core purpose as “helping people move from crisis to hope” and identified the three impact areas of service: responding to crisis; safety and advocacy; and building communities of support. 

We helped 68,943 individuals/families with crisis-related services and began collaborating with the Oakland Integrated Health Care Clinic to coordinate behavior care issues with physical problems.

Common Ground moved most of its crisis services to a building in the Oakland County Complex in Pontiac and was one of four agencies in southeast Michigan to form the Runaway and Homeless Youth Alliance. Additionally, our chat and text lines were invited to join the Crisis Text Line, Inc., a national program. 

The Common Ground Legal Clinic, which began in 1971, now had two dozen volunteer attorneys and a dozen additional volunteers, including paralegals, conducting two weekly clinics. Together, they served 1,500 people in 2013. 

Common Ground is named Crain’s Best Managed Non-Profit. 

Common Ground opened its Sober Support Unit, a 23-hour program for people who need detoxification services. Our Resource & Crisis Helpline (text and chat) and mobile crisis team became available 24/7, and The Sanctuary for Runaway and Homeless Youth opened a new facility in Royal Oak.

In 2017, human trafficking was added to the Victim Assistance Program to serve victims of human trafficking. Support included mobile services. We also started a support group for victims of MSU gymnastics coach Larry Nassar. 

Recognized at the national level, Common Ground is now a highly sought-after expert support facility for reducing the impact of trauma on individuals, families and communities in crisis. 

Medical students from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine began rotation into our service programs, while medical residents from St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia took part in our crisis service programs. Additionally, the Oakland County Human Trafficking Task Force partnered with us to establish the Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Common Ground. 

Common Ground was also named an Impact 100 Winner.

The Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded six grants – one of which went to Common Ground for our mentoring program for youth at risk of human trafficking, which was developed as part of the Runaway & Homeless Youth Program continuum.

Common Ground received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to assist in implementing programs that improve follow-up with high-risk individuals.

In accordance with the COVID-19 pandemic, our Resource & Crisis Helpline went remote. 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Michigan Chapter) presented Common Ground with the Community Partner Award for exemplary work on the Resource & Crisis Helpline.