Filling the Needs of Forgotten Youth
Off the Cuff with Courage MKE's Brad Schlaikowski
In the past, Brad Schlaikowski and husband, Nick, have been active in fundraising for PathFinders and the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin. More recently they have upped their efforts by starting Courage Milwaukee, a non-profit whose mission is raise funds and awareness for LGBTQ+ youth to ensure they have the skills, tools and resources needed to grow into successful leaders throughout the community.
Their end goal, however, is to open a shelter for LGBTQ+ youth. On any given night in Milwaukee, there are around 500 homeless youth on the streets with 40% identifying as LGBTQ+. Since its inception in 2015, Courage MKE has raised 35% of the money needed to open this shelter, included $40,000 at their most recent annual fundraiser in November.
What motivated you to start courage MKE?
Well, me and my husband Nick became foster parents in 2014. We had two teenagers who came to live with us who identified as LGBTQ+, and that opened our eyes to the need for a shelter for specifically LGBTQ+ teens. One of the girls came to us after six hours of driving around with a Child Protective Services (CPS) officer. How terrible is that? She’s in a stranger’s car, she doesn’t have a supportive family, she’s probably scared out of her mind and she’s hearing the conversation of the social working saying they can’t find a house for her, partly because she identifies as LGBTQ+.
Another girl, who was 17 when she came to us, had been living on the streets and couch surfing for two years before she got to us. The worst part is that she had been turned away from resources…
We don’t want anyone to feel unwanted while driving around in a CPS officer’s car or turned away from resources because of how they identify. This shelter will make sure experiences like those don’t happen in the future.
What will Courage look like a couple of years down the line?
We want to open it on the South Side because right now all the shelters are on the North Side. If you get kicked out of your house for coming out of the closet, and you’re on the South Side, you may not have any money or anywhere to go. How are those kids supposed to get to the North Side with no money and no resources? So, we think the shelter will be the most beneficial on the South Side.
But the shelter is just the foundation for what we want to do. We want to create a place for homeless LGBTQ+ to come and build their community and family. A place for them to come and learn life skills and how to live independently, how to manage their budget and things like that.
We will have counselors available for the youth, tutors and things like that. For example, I have a friend at a staffing agency who wants to come in and teach the kids how to create a proper résumé and do mock interviews with them, so when they turn 18, they are equipped properly for the real world.
What can people do to help?
First of all, admit that this is a problem. A lot of people don’t realize how many kids are on the street each night and how many of those kids identify as LGBTQ+, so the first step is for everyone to recognize that this is a problem. Admitting there is a problem and spreading awareness is the first thing.
Second, donate. We have raised $70,000 of the $200,000 needed to open the shelter. The suggested donation on our website is $10. We’ve had one large private donor, but other than that most donations have been under $100, so donate whatever you can. It doesn’t have to be money either. Even if it’s a pair of socks we will take it. Once we open the shelter, we will need furniture, bed sheets, lamps anything people have that we could use in our house would be great.
Lastly, volunteer. We need volunteers now, and we will need even more when the shelter opens.