Housing and health clinic for LGBTQ youth breaks ground in Detroit


A rendering of the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center, slated to open 2022, which will offer permanent supportive housing, a health clinic and community space for LGBTQ youth in Detroit. (Photo: Landon Bone Baker Architects)

The Ruth Ellis Center broke ground Friday on a new building to provide housing, a health clinic and community space for LGBTQ youth in Detroit. 

The Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center, a $15 million development at 61 Clairmount St., is slated to open in January 2022. The 44,000-square-foot, mixed-use center is a collaboration between the Ruth Ellis Center, a Highland Park-based nonprofit serving LGBTQ people between 13 to 30 years old experiencing homelessness, and Full Circle Communities, a Chicago-based nonprofit developer. 

The development is designed to include 32 studio and 11 one-bedroom apartments. A rental assistance program from the State Housing Development Authority will cover a portion, if not all, of the rent for 34 of the units. Eight others will be offered to residents earning up to $16,500, or 30% of the Detroit-Warren-Livonia metropolitan area median income. That amounts to just less than half of the median household income in Detroit, which is $33,965, based on 2019 Census data.

Rents have not yet been determined. 

More: Long-stalled Midtown Detroit $60M apartments break ground

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Residents will have access to amenities like a library, technology center, career training, art studio and gardening resources. The Ruth Ellis Center is working with Southwest Solutions to provide group therapy and case management. A partnership with Henry Ford Health System is expected to offer primary and specialty care to residents and neighbors of the center. Addiction and mental health counselors will also be available. 

“We know that 80% of an individual’s health is connected to social factors like access to housing, which is why we are excited to integrate clinical care with this important program,” Susan Hawkins, senior vice president for population health at Henry Ford Health System, said in a news release. 

The Ruth Ellis Center is named after Ruth Ellis, a Detroit activist who advocated for LGBTQ rights and whose home, starting in the 1940s, “served as a haven for gay African Americans who had few social venues at which to meet,” according to Michigan Women Forward. 

(L to R) Lisa Johanon, Donald Wrencher, Jerry Peterson, PJ Dowdy and Alex Plum all take part in the ground breaking on a large plot of land off of Clairmount Avenue on Friday, Nov 20, 2020 where the $15 million Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center in Detroit will be complete by January of 2022. The 43 unit, 44,000 square foot mixed use building will have housing and a clinic for LGBTQ+ youth when complete.  (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

The exterior of the center will feature her image. 

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the U.S. among young people experiencing homelessness. They account for 20% to 40% of homeless youth, but only 4% to 10% of the general youth population, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. This may be because of family rejection and discrimination or other factors, according to the nonprofit The Trevor Project. 

Although the new center will focus on assisting Detroit’s LGBTQ community, people of other sexual orientations who need the center’s services will have access to them. 

“We chose this location for our new center in order to reach young people where they are, in the heart of the city,” Jerry Peterson, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center, said in a news release.

Full Circle Communities purchased the land for the project from the Detroit Land Bank Authority for $59,900, said Carl Kunda, senior project manager at Full Circle Communities. 

Ruth Ellis Center received $1.4 million in tax credits from the Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The City of Detroit provided $1 million in Community Development Block Grants.

“We are honored to help the Ruth Ellis Center expand its mission and service to housing for the first time and to help some of our community’s most at-risk citizens,” said Donald Rencher, director of the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, in a news release. “Our department is committed to creating new and improved outcomes for all, especially those facing homelessness or other barriers to safe and stable housing.”

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Click here to support her work.

Contact Nushrat: nrahman@freepress.com; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratRSign up for Bridge Detroit’s newsletter. Become a  Free Press subscriber. 

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