(CBS DETROIT)– For 23 year old James Ashley, life has been tough.

“I had no hope, there was nobody to feed me,” said Ashley.

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After running away from an abusive home life, at the age of 16, Ashley found himself homeless on the streets of Detroit.

“There was no support, there was no help, it was just me and nature,” Ashley said during an interview Wednesday.

Ashley says he felt so alone and helpless he turned to drugs just to coop, but he says he knew in his heart things had to get better.

“You know my life is going to change, I kept saying that I won’t be here,” said Ashley.

A chance meeting in Starbucks about three years ago did change his life.

“She spoke to me, she gave me a flyer and she was introducing me about a program,” Ashley said.

That was Courtney Smith, Founder and CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center, and ironically the program she was introducing to James is one that transitions youth in the city out of homelessness and poverty.

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“That was an opportunity, I went for it,” Ashley said.

Smith and her foundation took Ashley in, provided him with a shower, meals, clothes and a place to live. Now after completing a 12 week program where youth learn about life skills that helps them transition into independent living, Ashley and 14 others are graduating.

“Just excited to celebrate the youth and the graduates today because they’ve overcome so many obstacles, for them to be able to commit to something, one of the youth said, I’m finally able to commit to something,” said Courtney Smith, CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center.

As for Ashley, he says through this experience with the Detroit Phoenix Center, he’s committed to a successful future, and has been inspired to work with other at-risk youth, transition to a better life.

“It made me confident, I’m confident,” Ashley said.

Along with a completion certificate, the graduates will get a $1000 stipend and laptop computer to help with their transition.

Detroit Phoenix Center (DPC) is a nonprofit organization that responds to the needs of underserved and transient youth in Detroit. DPC supports young people, ages 13-24, through direct services, including a daily drop-in center for young adults, afterschool enrichment program for teens, youth action board, emergency crisis support and a scholarship fund. DPC also works diligently for systemic change and contributes to the growing movement to end youth homelessness. For more information, visit www.detroitphoenixcenter.org.

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