Courage MKE plans to open housing for displaced young adults

Courage MKE, the nonprofit operator of a home on Milwaukee’s south side for displaced LGBTQ+ youth, plans to purchase another property that would provide housing to young adults aging out of the foster care system.

Co-founder and executive director Brad Schlaikowski said there is demand for housing for youth ages 17-24 who have little or no support systems in place, including residents aging out of Courage’s current home at 1544 S. Sixth St.

Schlaikowski and his husband, Nick – who together foster five children – opened the licensed group home in 2019. It serves youth ages 12-17 and provides counseling, health care, life skills and family reunification.

On average, youth at Courage House stay 284 days, compared to the state average youth stay at group homes of 39 days.

The organization has always planned on opening more homes for children but is now prioritizing the immediate need for young adult housing, said Brad Schlaikowski.

“Now, having been open for two-and-a-half years, we’re seeing where a huge problem is and it’s when a child ages out of the welfare system,” he said. “(From 18-24), you’re still learning, especially if you’ve been in the system and have not had the direction or mentors to teach you those skills for independent living.”

Often, children coming out of the system will be placed in an apartment, but they haven’t had the resources to process their trauma, he said.

“They have yet to scratch the surface of the trauma they’ve faced that they have to face to become successful adults,” Schlaikowski said. “Then they get scared and give up on independent living, or some want to take their own life or hurt themselves. That’s really what lit the fire to get this started sooner.”

Courage MKE is receiving mentorship from the Ali Forney Center in New York City – the largest LGBT-serving community center in the country – to help with the planning of the new housing program.

Courage MKE plans to purchase an apartment building with 10 to 15 one-bedroom or studio units, which would provide housing to as many people. Courage would build out office and communal space within the building, and would be available 24 hours a day to help residents who are in crisis or need to talk with someone, Schlaikowski said. Staff would also provide assistance with grocery shopping and other life skills, if needed, and a food pantry would be available for residents to regularly stock up on groceries.

Schlaikowski said residents would be expected to work, and they would pay rent “in some shape or form,” likely 20% or less of their weekly income.

When residents move out, they would be able to take the furniture in their unit, and the rent they paid would then help cover the cost of furnishing the space for the next resident.

Courage MKE is working with realtors to search for the right property; Schlaikowski said the south side would be ideal. The organization is working to raise $500,000 to purchase a building and furnish it.

This year, three youth aged out of Courage House. Schlaikowski said he wishes the new program could be up and running to help their transition, but it likely won’t open until spring 2023.

On Giving Tuesday, 100% of all donations made to Courage MKE will be applied to the campaign for the new home.

“Businesses are always looking for ways to support us; we need their support to help take care of and better our future leaders,” Schlaikowski said. “It’s a cliché and I know it, but when you look at the current Courage House – it’s the house that love built. It’s the epitome of that. It took a community to do that, and it’s going to take a community to do this. We’re not a deep-pocketed organization, we’re grassroots, and every penny from every community member gets us there that much faster.”

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Lauren Anderson is an associate editor and covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism.