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City’s only homeless youth center breaks off from Ohio State

Credit: Ris Twigg | Assistant Photo Editor

What began as an ambitious Ohio State professor’s effort to make a difference in the community turned into Columbus’ only homeless youth center, servicing more than 3,500 young people in more than a decade, has split from the university where it was founded.

Star House, formerly known as the Star House Foundation, announced in July that it would cut ties with Ohio State and operate as an independent, nonprofit foundation.

The move will give Star House the ability to secure new avenues of support, such as the $750,000 allocated for the center in each year of the state’s biennial budget.

“As an independent, nonprofit, Star House will have the flexibility to pursue community partnerships and additional funding sources, allowing it to best serve youth in need,” Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said in an email.

Star House started as Human Sciences Professor Natasha Slesnick’s idea to fill a void in a neighborhood deprived of resources for struggling young adults and teenagers.

In 2006, Slesnick opened a house on North Fourth Street in the heart of off-campus living as a research center for homeless youths from the ages of 14 to 24, initially funded by a federal research grant.

The bare-bones operation, with financial backing and help from Ohio State, took off.

“The university was the incubator for our program,” Slesnick said. “It wouldn’t have happened if not for the university originally allowing for it to be both a drop-in center and a research program at the same time.”

The drop-in center still has an open-door policy, providing resources such as food, clothing, showers and much more to young people in need, something Slesnick said did not exist before Star House’s inception.

“I think people have it in their minds that homeless youth aren’t capable or something — and that’s just not true,” she added.

“Our youth aren’t homeless because there is something wrong with them, our youth are homeless because there is something wrong with our social group that allows this to happen.”

In 2015, thanks to a community-supported fundraising campaign, Star House was able to move into a renovated center just off East Fifth Avenue near the interstate, still just a few miles from the run-down house near campus where it all started.

Slesnick said the new facility was much needed with an increase in the young people they were serving, nearly 1,000 individuals last year alone.

Now with a robust staff and a healthy budget of $1.6 million, Star House has decided it was ready to evolve and part ways with Ohio State.

“This is a success story,” Johnson added.

While still not a full-fledged shelter with beds, Star House CEO Ann Bischoff said the drop-in style of the center allows for youths to feel open and welcome as opposed to a traditional shelter run by a state or county where youth might feel uncomfortable.

Bischoff added that even though the center has parted ways with the university, Ohio State will still be involved in research, continuing to make it the only research-supported youth center in the country.

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