The Ruth Ellis Center was created as a safe haven for the LGBTQ plus community in Metro Detroit in 1999. This June, a new location on the city’s northwest side will open, expanding the services offered including a pharmacy and medical building to assist LGBTQ plus youth and the neighborhood.
Ruth Ellis was born in 1899 and died in 2000. Executive Director Jerry Peterson says Ellis lived her life to help others.
“She came out as lesbian in 1915 in Illinois. And she in the 30s and 40s of the last century, she and her partner opened up their home here in Detroit to be a safe haven, and a safe place for people to come and be fully themselves when they could not do that any anywhere else.” —Jerry Peterson, Ruth Ellis Center
Peterson says for almost 30 years, the center has strived to make Ruth Ellis proud, starting with drop-in services to create a safe place to access food, clothing and basic needs as well as get connected to case management and support. Over the years, the center has expanded to offer behavioral health services like mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
“The services that have been developed since then have really been keyed from [Ellis’] legacy,” Peterson says.
“Ultimately, though, what young people really need and want, who are homeless and unstably housed, is housing. And that’s what launched the effort to bring about the Clairmount center,” Peterson says.
Listen: Ruth Ellis’ legacy and what the new center will bring to the west side.
At first there was some concern among residents about the new building in an historic area, which is in the Piety Hill neighborhood on the northwest side. To address those concerns, the Ruth Ellis Center embarked on a neighborhood engagement process.
“We’ve really spent a lot of time, particularly with the neighbors within a two-block radius of the building,” Peterson says. “We are finding that people are now excited, at least accepting if not excited, about the building and recognizing that the building is really being built to focus on housing for LGBTQ young people, 18 to 25, who are experiencing homelessness.”
The Highland Park-based nonprofit broke ground on the Clairmount center in November, and the building is slated to open by June. It’s the second partnership with Henry Ford Health System, which will be providing primary care along with the center’s behavioral health services.
The new building will also feature an art therapy studio, a pharmacy that will be open to the neighborhood and a café. The center will also offer a youth entrepreneurial project “that hopefully will allow young people to not only find housing and health care and mental health care in the same building but also potentially training and access to employment,” Peterson says.