The first LGTBQ affirming space needed to be informed by the people we were going to serve, and all of that was informed by members of the community itself. We held a lot of focus groups led by people in the community who could have become residents of Clairmount Center as well. We needed to know from them what kind of physical structure was needed to be able to affirm their identity: what kind of aesthetics, colors, what does safety look like, what kind of entrances.
AMY KURAS | TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 2023
Mark Erwin is the executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center, which recently opened, in partnership with the City of Detroit, a residence for LGTBQ youth that also offers wraparound services such as employment coaching, behavioral health, art therapy, and health care.
Why was there a need for the Clairmount Center, with housing and services onsite for LGTBQ youth? What unique needs does that population have that are not well-served by other housing models?
This is the very first time that city of Detroit has had, as part of its housing continuum, housing for LGTBQ youth. In some cities up to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGTBQ identified. This was an opportunity to fill the gap here in Detroit. Significant behavioral health needs is a major focus. Having access to affirming housing is great, but young people experience discrimination in situations like healthcare so they have access to that here where they can advocate on their own behalf.
LGTBQ young men are at the greatest risk for new HIV infections, especially in the city. Our first health and wellness center began with conversations with young people in this population looking at barriers. For trans young people, it was important for them getting access to gender-affirming care where they’re not getting misgendered, or not being able to provide their preferred name, or being asked inappropriate questions or not being asked the right questions. Having a place like Clairmount Center, where they have access to a healthcare center co-located on the premises was really important. LGTBQ youth have a higher incidence of dropout primarily due to having experienced bullying, etc., so much so that they have just dropped out, so we offer employment coaching with hands-on experience with the food industry. We have a kitchen and café space.