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Second Stories Drop-In Center

The Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park serves young people living at the intersection of race, poverty and LGTBQ identification. Its drop-in center provides everything from showers and dinner to support groups to art classes for youth who often are homeless or have run away.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Ruth Ellis Center Executive Director Laura Hughes: The thing that I really talk about is that we are one of only a handful of organizations in the country serving homeless and runway youth who identify as LGBT. There’s clearly a need for services to meet the needs of these young people that doesn’t exist in the goals and objectives of places that deal with homeless and runaway people. It’s remarkable that the Ruth Ellis Center exists, and it’s also amazing the center exists given the political climate for LGTB people and the rights allocated to LGTB people. We have an organization and a team of folks who are working to create programs for young people at the intersection of race, gender, sexual orientation and poverty, and doing truly innovative work recognized across this nation.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
It continues to be around the resilience and knowledge that the young people who come to Ruth Ellis Center have and their commitment to the community. They have tried to access services from systems that have failed them and they keep trying. Often for themselves, but also for the people who will come after them, people younger than them. There are so many different folks within the community who are committed to LGTB youth and think the fact there are any homeless youth in our streets is unacceptable. For years, people didn’t mean that for all groups of young people, and there has been a real
We have an organization and a team of folks who are working to create programs for young people at the intersection of race, gender, sexual orientation and poverty...
expansion of thought and recognition when folks say they don’t want homeless youth on the street. Last year in February the federal department of Housing and Urban Development hosted an event in coordination with the Ruth Ellis Center that looked at homelessness within LGTB youth. A few days later HUD issued an equal access ruling that it’s illegal to discriminate against LGTB people for housing in terms of perceived orientation. I would also say between last year and this year we have doubled the amount of youth we serve. It’s not just word of mouth, but they are being sent here by other organizations. It’s been a phenomenal year.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest lesson has been really that there is so much need and such limited resources within our city and even in our nation. We continue to do a great job of getting young people here, but when they get there I don’t have enough beds. It’s not just here -- lots of places don’t either. As the region has experienced a recession, even as we as a city rebound from that, it’s young people who are hit the hardest and are the slowest to recover from that as well, and there are not enough resources here to support them.
What really differentiates this program?
Cleary that we have a very unique population, but I think also there is a huge amount of diversity among our young people as well that allows them to inform our work. We have a unique model built on positive youth development and cognitive youth development and how to apply that to youth who are disenfranchised. We’re dealing with young people who have the least amount of odds and the worst outcomes. We’re not committed to young people who would otherwise do well without us, we’re working with young people who are really in need.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Putting young people at the forefront of what we do and having them define the changes that need to happen within our
We’re dealing with young people who have the least amount of odds and the worst outcomes.
programming. That has definitely been and will continue to be key. We’re building up an organization that is bringing in dynamic minds and lets them be free, and lets them decide what should be happening. There are these really dynamic minds that we are fortunate to have as colleagues, and it’s our job to provide the parameters they can unleash themselves within.
How do race or diversity affect the work of your program?
All the programming we do acknowledges what it means for them to have African American adolescent development, racial identity development and LGTBQ development. We put those together to support young people as they develop over time, so they have not just positive adult role models but those who look like them, so they can see the possibilities of what it means to be a gay man or a lesbian and African American. It all is tailored accordingly. We also work with young people and their cognitive development because of the trauma they have faced, and we know what it means to understand what stage of development a young person is at and how to get to see success. 
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  • Ruth Ellis Center
    To provide short and long-term residential safe space and support services for homeless, runaway and at-risk lesbian, gay, bi-attractional, transgender and questioning youth.


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