Courage MKE supports LGBTQ kids struggling with homelessness
LGBTQ kids experience homelessness at a significantly higher rate than their peers. The reasons are many, but the result is kids in need of housing and a system of supports. Brad Schlaikowski and his husband wanted to be that support, so they created Courage MKE. The organization houses and helps LGBTQ kids struggling with homelessness. They were featured in this month’s Milwaukee Magazine as one of the winners of its Unity Award.
Courage MKE runs Courage House, a group home on Milwaukee’s south side that can house as many as five kids at a time. The home opened in 2019 and is currently housing three kids.
"We are a licensed group home in the state of Wisconsin. All of our kids that come to us come to us through through a referral, either through the social welfare system like foster care or through the juvenile justice system. In the state system, it is highlighted or marked for lack of a better word that we only take children that are LGBTQ+ or questioning," Schlaikowski explains.
Courage House's goal, he says, is to give children the tools they need to face their trauma — through therapy or individualized plans. But in the time since its opening, they've faced a number of challenges.
"We opened Courage the year right before COVID hit... We are still a relatively small organization in the last few years, funding has been a challenge. We're so grateful to those that reach out to us to make sure that our kids have what they need," Schlaikowski adds.
Over the last summer there were allegations made against Courage MKE by former employees, claiming that at times, management created an environment where not everyone felt safe and where some felt abused. The claims led to a petition being created.
In response, Schlaikowski says, "I want to make it very clear that the safety and well-being of any residents that has come through the doors of the Courage House has never been in question."
Schlaikowski says the organization contracted with a company that does restorative practice work but former employees did not wish to participate. He says they hired someone from the Department of Health and Human Services to do an investigation into the claims, and that the report produced did not justify any of the allegations. And, he says, another organization was brought it to review all of their procedures.
Schlaikowski says he's really proud of the work that's been done. Like any new business, he acknowledges that there were things that's the Courage MKE could've done better the first two years.
He believes these allegations were made because employees were unsatisfied with their benefits. "We have 12 staff with our organization, most of which are part time. A big part of this stemmed from our employees wanting us to provide health insurance and unfortunately, especially at that time, health insurance is an extreme cost to any organization. And it's just not something where we're at right now," says Schlaikowski.
Now as Courage MKE reflects on the last year, the group is looking for a new property they can turn into a transitional living apartment for youth aging out of the foster program.
It's been a year of growth, he says. "We did this work because of that petition and looked at everything internally. Last year, we received our national accreditation for going above and beyond state requirements. And then just this month, we were the first group home around the city of Milwaukee to receive our qualified residential treatment program provider certification."
Schlaikowski adds, "There's some gratefulness for that call-out last year because it made sure that we're prepared for this next step in our own adventure."