More than 400 homeless youth are on Milwaukee’s streets each night. Current estimates from the Williams Institute note that 40 percent of those are LGBTQ, having been kicked out of their parental homes because of their orientation or gender identity.
Courage MKE, which seeks to provide a home for such children, was established by area foster parents who witnessed firsthand the detrimental effects homelessness had on their charges.
"We knew that we could only take one at a time at our house, so the idea to open the Courage House here in Milwaukee is how that came to be," explains Brad Schlaikowski, Courage MKE co-founder and executive director.
Schlaikowski and his husband Nick have purchased a property they plan to turn into the brick and mortar home of Courage MKE and the kids they serve.
"The children cannot fix themselves until they can be themselves," notes Schlaikowski. "They were rejected from someone or somewhere because of who they are. So, we want to fix that part of the hole in their heart, so they can start focusing on the trauma they’ve been through with children or young adults that are like them."
Although the property for the house is secured, there is still a lot of work to make it suitable for people to live there. One way Courage MKE is raising funds to do this is a staged reading of The Laramie Project, the theatre piece about the hate crime that killed Matthew Shepard, a gay man in Wyoming, 20 years ago.
"There was a reverberation that sort of went throughout the theatrical community in the country and its been produced many times over. At the time, it became a museum piece in a way, a time to look back on. And you look at it now and ... unfortunately, it is as prescient as it ever was 20 years ago and as now as it ever was," says local actor and director of the reading, Michael Stebbins.
In addition to the production of The Laramie Project, Courage MKE will host a gala with keynote speakers Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard.
"Feeling makes change happen. So, I really hope that everyone that comes to this play can feel that and understand that message that Judy and Dennis are bringing to erase hate," says Schlaikowski. "I really hope that [people are] going to see what we need to do to make things better."
Schlaikowski and Stebbins joined Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski in the studio to speak about Courage MKE’s mission and the upcoming reading:
The reading of The Laramie Project takes place tonight at the Cabot Theatre in Milwaukee's 3rd Ward. Courage MKE's "There's No Place Like Home" gala is on Friday, Nov. 2, with keynote speakers Dennis and Judy Shepard.