2017 Hope and Grace Fund Recipient: Ruth Ellis Center

May 23, 2017

It’s May, which means it’s time to introduce you to this year’s Hope & Grace Initiative Grant Recipients! This illustrative list of community leaders and initiatives are making great strides in the field of mental health, shining a light and improving lives every single day. We’re proud to assist them in their goals, and to that end are proud to announce that this round of grant recipients brings us to over 3 million dollars granted in just three short years. It’s our honor to help these initiatives pave the way to a brighter future for mental health.

We’d like to introduce you to our grant recipients, starting with today’s feature on Ruth Ellis Center, a program born and based in Detroit, MI. Jerry Peterson, Director, and Monica Sampson, Behavioral Health Director, took some time to tell everyone a bit more about this amazing program:

 

“The Ruth Ellis Center was formed in 1999 as one of the very first LGBTQ+-specific non-profits to serve homeless and runaway LGBTQ+ youth in the metro Detroit area. Annually, we help about 500 unique youth.

Since 1999, we’ve evolved from a 500-square foot drop-in center to a 10,000-square foot, two-story drop-in facility with a separate facility for LGBTQ+ youth in Michigan’s foster care and child welfare systems. Along the way, in addition to street outreach and drop-in services, we’ve added mental health services and are implementing full behavioral health to include substance abuse disorder treatment and prevention services. We’ve also opened and integrated a health and wellness center which integrates primary care with behavioral health care co-located with our drop-in facility. Now, our young people can see a counselor, make a social work appointment, or see a physician or a nurse’s assistant, all in the same place.

We should clarify that we’re not a destination for homeless youth. A lot of the young people we serve are unstably housed and have very challenging circumstances, but they don’t really consider themselves homeless.

When it comes to mental health, we do have consistencies among our population outside of gender dysphoria. Oftentimes, we see depression, which is evidenced by the suicidal ideations we see in our youth due to the bullying and the mistreatment they receive not only amongst their peers but also professionally and through their experience with the education system. We also see a lot of anxiety, a by-product of heightened awareness from living and working on the street at a very young age. Finally, we see Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD,”) which comes from the trauma they experienced as children: being ostracized by their family, kicked out, and/or becoming unstably housed. Due to this background, our youth are doing sex work/survival work, which can cause a lot of PTSD.

Right now, we have a team of mostly LGBTQ+ mental health professionals delivering LGBTQ-specific treatment services which address the challenges of being LGBTQ+ in addition to the disorders just mentioned. We also have a team of individuals who do family work. We know our youth are at risk of being put out of their homes or running away because they’re mistreated and/or misunderstood, so we perform prevention work by going into the home before that happens to help the family understand the youth’s perspective and vice versa so we can try to keep families intact.

We’re also very proud of the new substance abuse disorder programming we offer. We’ve identified our youth are experiencing diagnoses which are “out of care,” meaning without proper treatment and necessary medication from a psychiatrist they’ll tend to self-medicate using illicit drugs and alcohol. Often, when we’re providing mental health services, we need to address substance abuse issues because many have them as a co-occurring disorder.

With our health and wellness clinic, when we say “wellness,” we’re going beyond a definition of traditional diet and exercise. With our youths, it’s not realistic to always speak in terms of regular 9-5 jobs or traditional working income. Although we’re not promoting it, we do realize that a lot of them need guidance and support with the work they do, which is sex work. We do everything we can to make sure they’re safe while they’re doing it. We also must address the many physical and emotional changes one may undergo while transitioning that naturally happen when they start hormones, so we provide medical care and understanding for what’s happening to their bodies physically and emotionally.

We’re extremely excited to have been named as a Hope & Grace Grant Fund Recipient! We’re grateful to everyone at Hope & Grace and everyone who would see this as a priority. It’s a marvelous opportunity. We’ll be using the funds for our Transpeace initiative.

 

Of the about 500 youth we serve each year, about 10-20 percent of them identify are trans, most of them transwomen of color. Also, about 70% of the young people who come here identify as cisgender males of which about half identify with feminine gender expression. So, we have a very fluid group of young people here, and those whose gender expression doesn’t fit societal norms tend to have a lot of stress and difficulties maintaining employment and housing. It’s very difficult when you don’t fit the norm, particularly here in Detroit where the real culprit of mistreatment and misunderstanding is conservative religious beliefs, regardless of culture or ethnicity.

Also, now that we’ve been in existence for 17 years, some of the trans women we started working with in their early twenties are now in their mid-to-late thirties, which is outside our client age of service. We’re really worried about these women; we’ve watched several sink into very serious mental health distress. With the combination of sex work and drug use, they’re in and out of jail and short-term psychiatric care — all of which renders them really challenged in managing their lives. But when they’re here, by and large, we know them and we’re able to do work with them that other organizations aren’t. We want to ensure this vulnerable, marginalized group of people has access to a therapist that can add dimension to their medical care because, well, one of our best successes of the health and wellness center so far is that these women love Dr. Mao, our physician who works in the center. They’re very connected to her, so if we could create a free, state-of-the-art opportunity for these women to find full physical and emotional health and wellbeing in their full, true identity, we feel there isn’t anything better that we could possibly do.

What we’re looking to do when it comes to Transpeace is to create a support group for trans women run by transwomen where they learn healthy living skills, both physical and emotional, along with mental wellbeing techniques and skills. We’re also looking specifically for a group of people who or a trained therapist to head this project/program so our clients can receive integrated care in the health and wellness center the individual therapy, the substance abuse disorder treatment, and the support group all under one united roof led by one team leader and a support team of all trans-identified individuals. We also address how those who desire to do so can dress more feminine, identifying what clothes look better than others and how they can accentuate their figures. We provide coaching and supplies that can help enhance the figure like girdles with buttocks in them so they can feel more feminine. We have the binders and the gaps and other items for trans youth. We’re talking mind body and soul from head to toe.

We’re proud of the work we do, and we hope anyone who needs our services can come find us. Thankfully, we’re not a secret: most of our advertisement comes from word of mouth, and we do regular social outreach on Facebook and Twitter where we post our daily activities and events. We’re also out there with a team who walks the stroll where most of the women are working during the night to make sure they’re receiving our safer sex kits. So, we are out there, our faces are out there, and we’re well-known.”