COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio’s largest and longest-standing organization supporting youth who identify within the LGBTQ+ community is expanding with a new building dedicated to mental health.

Kaleidoscope Youth Center is launching a new Wellness Center on Sept. 5 to increase the organization’s housing, programming and leadership opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth ages 12 to 24. Offering free daily drop-in programming, the center provides a space for youth to come in for resources, personal care items, community building activities, support, and just to hang out.

The Wellness Center, behind KYC’s drop-in center at 603 E. Town St., will house the organization’s behavioral health and community-based wellness teams. Inside, about 10 social workers will provide counseling sessions, group activities, life-skills development and more for queer youth.

Erin Upchurch, executive director of Kaleidoscope, said the organization’s expansion comes as an increasing number of LGBTQ+ youth are in need of support. More than 40% of young queer people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year and 56% of LGBTQ+ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it, according to The Trevor Project.

“We’ve seen the emergence of a need for more collective healing opportunities for young people,” said Upchurch. “Looking at the world today, it’s rough out there for young people, and I don’t know that, as adults, we’re doing the best job we can to create the softer world that’s needed.”

Traditional adolescent challenges intersecting with complex diversity factors — race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity — are creating nuanced obstacles for youth, said Upchurch. However, Upchurch points to several anti-LGBTQ+ bills moving through the Ohio Statehouse amplifying those struggles.

The House of Representatives passed a bill in June to ban healthcare professionals from providing treatment known as gender-affirming care to trans children in the state. Representatives amended the legislation to include House Bill 6, named the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” to bar trans girls from taking part in female athletics.

The “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” also passed by the Ohio House, would require teachers to notify parents before teaching “sexuality content” and of any change in a student’s mental, emotional or physical health. In addition, a bill banning trans students from using a restroom aligned with their gender identity at schools and universities has also been proposed.

“The introduction of these bills is bad enough, but then the very, very public conversation around the validity of an existence of an individual’s identity, that’s actually what’s the most dangerous,” said Upchurch.

Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is why KYC hosts peer-to-peer mentorship opportunities through affinity-based groups to foster community. One is Genderscope, a weekly group for youth of trans experience, non-conforming, non-binary or questioning.

For LGBTQ+ youth struggling with housing, KYC has created various services based on need. The center’s rapid re-housing program helps youth prevent or quickly exit homelessness and find stable housing. Assistance is offered without preconditions.

At least 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+, according to True Colors United. Queer youth are also 120% more likely to experience homelessness, with a majority forced out of their homes due to family rejection or familiar abuse.

Kaleidoscope is hosting an open house on Sept. 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. to welcome LGBTQ+ youth and the community into the new Wellness Center. Upchurch said the open house is an opportunity to show young queer people that “there’s more people out there that love them, support them, want to affirm them than the people who do not.”

“Sometimes, I wish KYC didn’t need to exist,” said Upchurch. “We exist because our young folks need that sanctuary and safer space and we’re going to keep being there and showing up as long as we need to be.”

Learn more about Kaleidoscope Youth Center and the organization’s programming for LGBTQ+ youth here.