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Safe Place, Real Support

By |2015-05-07T09:00:00-04:00May 7th, 2015|Michigan, News|


YPSILANTI – “Ozone House, this is (name), how can I help you?”
The question seems pretty incidental. But for a youth in need or a concerned adult seeking help for a youth in need, that almost insignificant greeting can be the life preserver that keeps them above water.
Cooking nearly 10,000 meals annually and providing services for thousands of Michigan youth, Ozone House continues to shape the way local communities work together to provide for less fortunate individuals living in their neighborhoods.
Ozone House has provided a safe place, continued support and free, confidential and voluntary shelter to thousands of runaway, homeless and high-risk youth since 1969 and is the only agency in Washtenaw County to provide such services to youth ages 10-20 and their families.
Like many homeless youth, LGBT youth either run away from home or are forced from their home due to severe family conflict, abuse, neglect, mental health or physical disabilities. America has an estimated 500,000 to 1.6 million homeless youth, with 40 percent identifying as LGBT.
There are three locations to access Ozone House’s youth services. The Drop-In Center, located at 102 N. Hamilton in Ypsilanti; Ozone House in Ann Arbor, located at 1705 Washtenaw; and Miller House, located on the west side of Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor’s Ozone House is home to the 24-hour crisis hotline, individual and family therapy, on-site case managers, the community education and outreach program and “Stay Safe,” an emergency shelter for young people ages 10-17 who need a safe place to stay for up to three weeks.
“Here (at the 1705 Washtenaw location) the crisis line is really the first point of entry for folks. There are on occasions people that walk through the door, but primarily people were calling,” said Heather Steenrod, Development Director of Ozone House Youth and Family Services. “Depending on the severity of the call, an intake may be required, but anybody can call the line. So it’s not just young people. It can be the mom or dad of a young person who just came out and they don’t know how to handle the news — some parents who are just completely fed up. We are that last call before they kick their kids out. We’ve even gotten coaches, teachers and counselors that have called the line.”
Steenrod says that one out of four callers identifies as LGBTQ, but she recognizes that not every LGBT caller is going to identify, and the team isn’t going to ask.
“When a youth is in crisis, their issue is over food, housing or safety for example. So we work towards getting those needs taken care of. We do ask how young people identify when they come in for an intake and is something that we’ll talk about when they are here at the shelter. Depending on the severity of the crisis, it may not even be something that we talk about.”
The Ann Arbor Shelter
The experts at the shelter will help callers find a solution to their problem and in many instances will refer them to other specialists if the problem is beyond their expertise. The team works closely with the Kicked Out Fund, which helps youth who have been kicked out of their homes; the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, a coalition of 26 community based organizations serving homeless individuals; the Family Support Network, a group of eight local non-profit organizations that provide integrated services to homeless families, children and youth; Food Gatherers, which provides all the food and supplies to all three sites and operates an innovative food service job training and placement program for homeless youth; the University of Michigan School of Nursing Nurse Managed Centers which provides health services and health education; and Avalon Housing, which manages SOLO — a permanent supportive housing program for homeless youth.
The shelter that is on site in Ann Arbor is temporary and can house up to six youth for two to three weeks, with the goal of getting the young person into stable housing or back into their family of origin. The shelter houses around 100 youth a year and has a 99 percent safe exit rate.
During their stay at the 1705 Washtenaw location, youth have access to an in-home gym, food, clothing, workplace training, support groups and visits from medical professionals that volunteer their time once a week.
In the four years since Steenrod has been at Ozone House, she has seen a few trans* youth access the available services. The staff is trained to wait until the youth expresses how they identify before using any gendered language, honoring personal identification vs. state identification.
“It’s become more prevalent in conversation because young people are self-identifying and also young people are having friends that are self-identifying. One of the things that we try to do here is not only support our LGBT youth but make sure every single other person who is in shelter becomes an ally and understands what that (identifying as LGBT) means. Because it doesn’t really do any good to support someone in this vacuum when you have a fantastic opportunity with five other young people.”
Youth can come for a hot meal, do laundry, take a shower, use computers and phones as well as access Ozone House services at the Drop-In Center. On an average night, the Drop-In Center services 20 youth and provides a range of activities throughout the month to build relationships and establish further safe space for youth. Each year the Drop-In Center sees between 3,000 and 5,000 youth.
“Youth come to the Drop-In because it’s a safe place,” Director of Youth Opportunity at the Drop-In Center, Colleen O’Brien, said. “The top reasons they give for coming in are: they are treated with respect and kindness here, we are willing to help them with anything we can, we do help them and it’s safe. The youth who hang out here are so talented and engaged — they just don’t always have safe places to express themselves or to be themselves.”
Pridezone, a social and support group for LGBTQ youth, is hosted at 6 p.m. every Wednesday. While attendance varies depending on the season, Patrick Gaulier, the lead Pridezone facilitator who was first trained on the crisis line, says average attendance at Pridezone is between three to 10 youth.
Pridezone hosts weekly, intimate group discussions that provide a safe place for those that might not otherwise be safe in being themselves and also help hundreds of LGBT youth find family and support in their attending peers and educators. During a typical month, Pridezone hosts a game night, a community conversation called “Coming Out Over Coffee” where members talk about coming out experiences and other issues, a crafting night and usually a field trip.
“The most inspiring experience I had while working with Pridezone was when a young person, feeling fearful they would be ostracized for identifying as trans at home, shared his story with the group and expressed that there were people willing to respect his pronouns and use his real name,” Gaulier said.
That level of acceptance and understanding is key for all those who work at Ozone House.
Pridezone is the only service of its kind in Ypsilanti, and Gaulier hopes that in future months Pridezone grows and becomes a bigger part of the community.
Gaulier and his team will continue to go out into the community and have safe, identity-affirming experiences at places like Buhr Park Ice Arena and local cider mills, as well as develop a community education component of Pridezone to address issues of education and acceptance within Washtenaw County.

Local Youth Resources

Ozone House Youth and Family Services
102 N. Hamiltion St., Ypsilanti
Tel: 734-485-2222
Crisis Line: 734-662-2222
[email protected]
Text “@pridezone” to 313-486-1083 to receive text updates on happenings.

Neutral Zone: Ann Arbor Teen Center
310 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor
[email protected]

Riot Youth Program: an LGBTQ advocacy and education project for high school age youth, offering a safe place for young people to earn their high school diploma.
MEP Alternative High School
Contacts: Scott Bentas, Gregory Moore
290 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale
586-382-3317; 586-677-5074

Alternatives For Girls: Street outreach and case planning services for transgender and other sex workers. Resource line answered 24 hours/7 days per week.
903 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit
[email protected]
877-350-4001; toll-free 888-234-3919

Carl Rippberger Youth Services Program
290 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale
[email protected]
248-398-7105; toll-free 800-398-4297

Common Ground Sanctuary Youth Outreach
1222 S. Washington, Royal Oak
Crisis Line: 800-231-1127

The Corner Health Center –
Young Adult Health Center: Walk-in medical services
47 N. Huron, Ypsilanti
[email protected]

GIFT Refuge (Group for High School Students):
GIFT TNT is an affirming, faith-based group for LGBT youth. It meets twice a month for group dialogue, support, education and social events.
207 Fulton St. E, Grand Rapids
[email protected]

PLUS – People Like Us:
LGBT Youth Support Group. Teenage runaway crisis line. For teenagers who are questioning their identity, who are suicidal and/or who are thinking of running away from home.
343 Atlas Ave. SE, Grand Rapids
RAP Line-Runaway Assistance Program
toll-free 800-292-4517

Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center Youth Group
629 Pioneer St., Kalamazoo
[email protected]

Ruth Ellis Center
77 Victor St., Highland Park
Ruth’s House-Street Outreach Program
Transitional Living Program and Intensive Treatment Unit
[email protected]
Ruth Ellis Center provides residential safe space and
support services for runaway, homeless and at-risk gay,
lesbian, bi-attractional, transgender and questioning youth
in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan.

The Trevor Helpline
National toll-free 24 hour, 365 day-a-year confidential suicide hotline for gay & questioning teens.
toll-free: 866-488-7386

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.
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