I've now been volunteering at the Ruth Ellis Center for eight years. I go every Wednesday that I'm in town and don't have a church meeting (and there haven't been many of those lately). The place has, of course, changed, like a new dishwasher about a year ago and a new stove last January. Yeah, I'm most familiar with the kitchen.
My work has always been in the upper floor, what is named the Second Stories Drop-In Center. The first floor was offices and storage, including some furniture for youth setting up an apartment. Last summer (I think it was) the administration staff was moved to another building and stuff was brought upstairs, at least the stuff we could make fit. Then the first floor was gutted. One day so much dust was created the smoke detectors went off and we had to evacuate. There were pauses in the work as more money was raised.
The renovations of the first floor are almost complete. It will open as a Health and Wellness Center, a satellite of the Henry Ford Health System. The HFHS, whose CEO Nancy Schlichting is a lesbian, was heavily involved in planning the renovation and will be in its running. Between the Lines, Michigan's gay newspaper, has a great article about the new facility.
But why not simply send the youth to existing HFHS services? Because regular health providers aren't trained to be sensitive to the needs of LGBT youth, especially homeless youth. For example, what to do with a transgender youth who is not yet 18 who doesn't have a parent willing to sign for them? How do you help an HIV positive homeless youth establish an effective treatment regimen?
The Ruth Ellis Center already provides four areas of service. There is Ruth's House, which provides housing for a few homeless youth. There is the Drop-In Center, where I work. This provides a broad range of services from food, to laundry, to computer and internet access, to discussion groups, to have a place to dance, to simply have a safe space for our youth. I'm sure my list isn't complete. The third area of service is outpatient mental health. I think that has been happening in the Second Stories area and will likely move downstairs. The fourth is the Family Preservation Program, in which caseworkers work with Child Protection and the families of LGBT youth to keep the family together and to teach families what to avoid saying or doing that the LGBT youth would likely see as hostile.
And the new area is this Health and Wellness Center.
I haven't been inside the new area yet. I'll have to ask for a tour. When it does open I'm sure there will be an official Open House. A few months ago I asked if money was still needed for the renovation. I was told it is all paid for. But the BtL article implies they are still raising money.