Update: Ruth Ellis Health & Wellness Center opens doors to LGBTQ youth May 4, 2017

On Feb. 9, the new Ruth Ellis Health & Wellness Center opened its doors to provide fully integrated primary care and behavioral health services to LGBTQ youth experiencing barriers to housing, health, and wellness in the Detroit metro area. The facility was constructed amid a $1.5 million capital campaign that began in April 2015 and will be completed later in 2017. IFF provided an $850,000 bridge loan so that construction could move forward during the campaign.

Approximately 800-1,000 LGBTQ youth experience homelessness in the City of Detroit alone. Ruth Ellis Center (REC) previously served about 500 unique young people annually through its short- and long-term residential care and drop-in mental health services. Three months after opening the Health & Wellness Center, REC expects a 25% increase in the number of youth served within the first year.

“The amount of enthusiasm, compassion, and generosity we have received throughout this campaign has been overwhelming,” REC’s Director of Development Mark Erwin-McCormick says. “This isn’t about a renovation or expansion; this is redefining how we make healthcare accessible to some of the most vulnerable among us – and people want to invest in that.”

Research indicates that LGBTQ individuals face health disparities linked to social stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. In particular, family rejection of a child based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression has profound negative effects on the child’s overall wellbeing.

“This model of care is incredibly rare,” McCormick says. “There are significant national implications as far as how health care is provided to and accessed by marginalized populations.”

The process to build out and raise money for the new facility required “good communication, a sense of humor, and laser-focused vision,” according to McCormick. The staff had to temporarily move offices while asbestos and lead-based paint were removed from the property, and primary care services began 10 months before the facility opened through a mobile care unit parked outside.

“Ruth Ellis was an African American woman and entrepreneur who identified as a lesbian as early as 1915 and opened her home as a safe space for the Detroit LGBTQ community beginning in the 1930’s,” McCormick says. “This is her legacy, and our incredibly dedicated team recognizes the significant impact the Center can have on the lives of the young people we serve.”