LaKeesha Donaldson shares a special connection with the people she serves at Lighthouse because she understands what it’s like to be in their shoes.
Years ago, LaKeesha lost everything she owned in a house fire.
“I only had the clothes on my back,” she says. “I know how it felt to not have the support that you need. I know the emotional challenges you go through when you don’t have your own place.”
That memory is one of several life experiences that inspired LaKeesha to choose a career she knew would make a difference.
“I always had a passion to help people. I grew up with my grandmother just doing it on her own, allowing people to stay with us, help them,” she says.
LaKeesha joined Lighthouse in March 2018 as an intern in direct services. Since then, she’s received several promotions. Most recently she served as Emergency Shelter Case Manager, helping dozens of people in Oakland County along the way.
“We’re a housing-first agency and we look past barriers clients may have, such as mental health, substance abuse, no income, or very low income,” says LaKeesha. “Most people cannot think about housing because they’re dealing with everything else. If they’re housed first, they can focus on the other aspects of their lives.”
In her new role as Emergency Shelter Manager, LaKeesha oversees the shelter and supervises and supports Lighthouse’s case managers to ensure they have the training and tools they need to assist those who need it most.
“I really, really love what I do,” she says. “Being able to help families and individuals get past some of the barriers they face is truly fulfilling.”
An example includes the changes Lighthouse recently made to its SOS Emergency Shelter. Prior to COVID, Lighthouse partnered with local congregations to host a rotating shelter, providing about 30 people a place to stay each night. During COVID, shelter numbers quadrupled. To keep people safe, Lighthouse moved its emergency shelter program to a local motel where families can stay together and feel supported as they work to get into housing.
To help address the gap in emergency shelter beds for families, Lighthouse is also converting an 18-unit apartment building at Cottage and Center streets in Pontiac into a family emergency shelter with beds for up to 54 people.
“When we’re interviewing staff, we ask: ‘What does homelessness look like to you?’ And, to me, that question speaks volumes,” LaKeesha says. “Not everyone who is homeless just because they couldn’t pay their rent. It wasn’t just because they had a house fire. Some people fled domestic violence, some people have been scammed and they’ve been trying to do the right thing. One thing I tell my clients is – this is just a situation, it’s not forever – and we’re here to help.”
Please join us in congratulating LaKeesha on her new role.