Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center plans new Henry Ford Health clinic to help homeless LGBTQ+ youth

The new Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center will provide numerous services, including health care, to Detroit area LGBTQ+ youth who are homeless.

"The Ruth Ellis Center was established back in 1999, as a direct result of a young person, only 15-years-old, who had come out to his family recently as gay, and they immediately and violently rejected him," said Mark Erwin, with the Ruth Ellis Center. "He was living on the street experiencing homelessness and seeking resources specific to LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness."

At that time, those resources weren't available, so the community came together and created a place to provide support and services. 

Now, the center offers a place to shower, clothing, a food pantry, leadership programs, a health and wellness center operated by Henry Ford Health System, and other services for young people. Ruth Ellis Center also works with child welfare professionals to figure out how to best help LGBTQ+ young people, Erwin said.

Ruth Ellis Center

Soon, there will also be a housing center, which will a Henry Ford health and wellness center to address health disparities in the LGBTQ community.

More: Ruth Ellis Center expansion will help house homeless, at-risk LGBTQ+ youth

The Ruth Ellis Center already has one Henry Ford clinic. Erwin said the existing health center was born after a conversation with former Henry Ford CEO Nancy Schlichting about the struggles LGBTQ+ youth face with regard to health care.

"Young people are telling us that they’re experiencing discrimination in health care settings, that they’re being asked inappropriate questions, that physicians are not necessarily equipped to really provide affirming care," Erwin said. "Because of those reasons, young people are not accessing primary care services."

Schlichting said Henry Ford wanted to help, and a continuing partnership was built.

The Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center is expected to open in the summer. It will have 43 units of supportive housing.

"It allows the city of Detroit to place special emphasis on young people who identify as LGBTQ, to be placed in a program that is tailored to support their needs," Erwin said. "We also know that in community's across the country, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by homelessness, and in some communities up to 40% of all young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. This will be the first housing program that is designed to meet their needs here in the city of Detroit."

An employment center will also be set up to prepare people living at the center for work. Erwin said there will be a focus on the food industry, and commercial kitchens will be available.

At the wellness center, youth will have access to routine checkups, ongoing care, prescriptions, and mental health services, including an art therapy studio at the center.

Dana Parke, with the health system, said Henry Ford will be responsible for the clinical care, while Ruth Ellis Center will provide behavioral health care. 

"The goal of our clinic is to provide a patient-centered, trauma-informed clinical care delivery model that really targets the specialized needs of this population and provides those services in a gender-affirming manner," Parke said. "Really importantly, we're providing choice to the patients and residents in how they want to access care."

While the health clinic will be on the first floor of the Clairmount Center, youth will also have access to virtual care.

Tahrima Khanom, who works at the existing Henry Ford clinic at Ruth Ellis, said the current clinic provides primary care, with a big focus on HIV prevention.

"A big part of our work is HIV prevention, treatment, and care, which is another reason why the Clairmount Center is such an amazing, and, I don't use the word ‘revolutionary’ lightly, but I think it's going to be revolutionary, especially when we talk about HIV treatment" she said. "We have patients coming in diagnosed with HIV, and the biggest barrier to care is housing stability because we know when those basic needs are not met, people are not able to stay in care and access this life-changing medication."

Beyond the clinics that have a focus on LGBTQ+ youth, the health system said it is dedicated to helping people in the community. It was one of two Michigan health systems to be named on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Healthcare Equality Index.

"At Henry Ford Health, we are committed to addressing equity and serving those in the LGBTQ population," Parke said. "We're so honored to be recognized as a LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader for 2022."

Michigan Medicine was the other health system in the state to receive this designation.