Presenting #OutCenterAtHome: Live Virtual Programming with OutCenter Leadership & Friends

Stay home. Stay safe. We are, too!

The OutCenter presents #OutCenterAtHome, featuring live programming streamed here at outcenter.org/live and on our Facebook Page. The goal of the virtual programming is to keep our community informed about the shifting virtual offerings of regular programming and groups in a secure environment, while also having great conversations together about how the community can help.

Our most recent as of this writing was Wednesday, April 29 at 9:30am featuring “Coffee with Chris and MJ!”

The first live program from Friday, April 10, introducing you to the OutCenter’s current situation, is located below.

If you’d like to participate in presenting some virtual programming, or you have a question, email us at live@outcenter.org. Consider making a donation to the OutCenter to help us continue great virtual programming during the stay-at-home order while also meeting our continuing operations needs.

COVID-19 Updates

The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan is asking everyone to help stop any spread of COVID-19 across our service area of Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties.

To find important information about this, please visit the Berrien County Health Department’s page about COVID-19.

The staff and Board consider personal health and safety as fundamental characteristics of a vibrant community. We also understand you may have growing concerns about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Please only consult trusted and vetted sources about this virus.

In reports from across the country, LGBTQ+ people also remain more at risk due to these factors:

  • The LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers.
  • The LGBTQ+ population has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater number of us may have compromised immune systems, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.
  • LGBTQ+ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent – and perhaps not even then.
  • LGBTQ+ Seniors are a large segment of our community and are at greater risk due to the above factors and their age.

For information from the Fenway Institute regarding Coronavirus, COVID-19, and Considerations for People Living with HIV and LGBTQIA+ People please see this document.

We are closely monitoring updates from the Berrien County Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization regarding COVID-19. We will continue to follow guidance from these agencies and public health officials.

Currently, our physical location is closed to the public however, we are still providing ALL the programs and services that our communities have come to expect or even rely on. Our phone number will route you to appropriate staff, the drop-in center will offer a virtual presence, and programs will be hosted remotely.

To join remotely:

  1. Download the Google Hangouts Meet app on your phone or computer.
  2. Then go to the OutCenter website calendar page.
  3. Select “See more details” under the program session scheduled.
  4. Next to “Joining info” select the “https” link and you will be added to the session.
  5. Or without video, simply dial the following number and enter the following PIN and # listed for that session.

NOTE: OutCenter’s Google Hangouts and Meet App are HIPAA Compliant.

Of course as a small non-profit, operationally, we rely entirely on the support of our donors. We understand that during times like these both businesses and individual households are more conservative financially. If you are able to provide support, please do so on our secure platform.

Community Resources Available

River Valley School District Distribution Sites & Times:

  • Trinity Lutheran Church, Sawyer: 11:00 – 11:30 a.m.
  • New Troy Community Center: 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
  • Galien Township Public Library: 12:30 – 1:00 p.m.
  • Three Oaks Elementary School: 1:15 – 1:45 p.m.

Breakfast and lunch packs will be provided free of charge to anyone, regardless of district, 18 years of age and under; adults pay $1 for breakfast, $2 for lunch. No dine-in; drive-by/pick up only.

In addition, children enrolled in Blessings in a Backpack at River Valley will have access to their weekend food packs each Friday, March 20 through April 3, at the designated River Valley School District meal pick-up locations:

  • Trinity Lutheran Church, Sawyer: 11:00 – 11:30 a.m.
  • New Troy Community Center: 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
  • Galien Township Public Library: 12:30 – 1:00 p.m.
  • Three Oaks Elementary School: 1:15 – 1:45 p.m.

At each of these locations on Fridays, families may drive up to collect not only the school’s breakfast and lunch packs, but also their Blessings in a Backpack weekend packs.

Please see the food distribution sites for children under the age of 18, as well as individuals with disabilities under the age of 26. Please feel free to share with your clients. I will send any updates as they come in.

Community Curated Support Links*

Financial Help

This is a one-stop site for answers to questions regarding food, financial assistance, unemployment resources, and help to pay utility bills, mortgages, property taxes, condominium association fees, and much more:

Utility Bills

Here is a link for assistance in paying your utility bills.

Food

Do you need help with food?

Feeding America can help. Mobile food pantries for all of western Michigan, including Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties.

Eviction

Are you a renter being evicted? There is help! Visit this site to learn more.

Small Business/Nonprofits

Small businesses and nonprofit entities in Berrien County, Michigan, can find help at the Cornerstone Alliance site.

Rent/Mortgage

Do you need rent or mortgage relief? You can find assistance at Investopedia and MLPP.

LGBTQ

Do you have questions about COVID-19 and how it relates to the LGBTQ community? You can get some insight here.

Mental Health

Mental health questions can be answered here. You can get assistance finding local mental health resources during the pandemic here.

Pets

Do you have questions about your pet and COVID-19? You can find some answers here.

Student Loans

Find answers about paying your federal student loans here.

Personal Loans

Do you need a loan or loan relief? There is helpful information at MAUL and Nerdwallet.

Medication

Do you need help paying for medication? Check out MAT.org

The Elderly

Are you a caregiver for an older person and have concerns about COVID-19? Here are some guidelines.

*Community Curated Support Links were organized by OutCenter volunteers to direct members of the community who need support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The OutCenter has not vetted these resources and listing them on our site is not an endorsement of the publishing organization.

The Future of Saint Joseph’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance

With election day approaching this Tuesday, November 5, 2019, the OutCenter sent out a questionnaire to the 6 candidates running for the Saint Joseph City Commission. Those candidates include three incumbents, Jeff Richards, Laura Goos, and Lynn Todman, as well as three challengers, Al DiBrito, Shawn Hill, and Susan Solon. 

Questions asked pertained to the City of Saint Joseph’s newly amended non-discrimination ordinance (NDO), which was passed unanimously in March of 2019, to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protections for the LGBTQ+ community, prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

In the interest of transparency and accountability in governance, we are publishing the results prior to the election in order to help educate the voting public about the position of all candidates regarding the non-discrimination ordinance. 


The Questions and Responses:

  • Question:

Understanding that LGBTQ+ Michiganders residing in the City of Saint Joseph were largely unprotected from discrimination, and understanding that the City Commission moved unanimously in March 2019 to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance providing equal protections to LGBTQ+ individuals residing, working, and/or vacationing in the City of Saint Joseph – joining 46 other Michigan cities and towns, and understanding that studies have shown such ordinances benefit the cities and towns that enact them economically, et al., and understanding the City Commission followed protocol to enact said ordinance, would you, if elected to the Saint Joseph City Commission in 2019, support this ordinance, as is, without moving to amend provisions in ways that would erode protections from discrimination and lessen support for equality of LGBTQ+ residents, employees, and visitors of the City of Saint Joseph?

  • Responses by Candidate (listed in alphabetical order):

Al DiBrito: Yes, I will support the ordinance as written. Having said that, I believe I’m the only candidate that has actually investigated civil rights investigations. Although I’ve never investigated an LGBTQ case, as a FBI Special Agent (retired), I have investigated several civil rights investigations to include cross burnings, church fires, excessive use of force and in custody deaths (prison and jail). After reviewing the St Joseph ordinance, I feel I could offer some suggestions that may make the ordinance stronger and close some potential prosecutive and investigative loopholes. Whether I’m elected or not, I’d be more than happy to meet with you and/or your board to discuss.

Jeff Richards: I voted for this ordinance in March 2019.

Laura Goos: As you know, I am a fierce protector of LGBTQ+ rights and will absolutely continue my support of the City of St. Joseph’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance.  Not only does it correct a glaring gap in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but it sends the message to our community and its visitors that we are a welcoming and inclusive area. I also believe that by leading the way in SW MI, we have allowed the air cover needed for other municipalities to follow suit. This is the right thing to do and I’m proud that I was a part of making it happen.

Lynn Todman: I would!

Shawn Hill: Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your concerns from the LGBTQ+ community. It is not my intention to try and reverse, or amend the action of the Saint Joseph City Commission that extended more protections to the LGBTQ+ community. I believe everyone should be able to live, work and play in the City without fear of threats or intimidation, of any kind, as the result of their beliefs. I have spoken with several people in the community who shared your concerns, and after I explain my desire to simply treat everyone fairly, they simply said thank you and we agreed this is the best course to take.

Susan Solon: If elected, I would uphold this ordinance, as was passed in March 2019 by the St. Joseph City Commission.


Be an educated voter!

The OutCenter, no matter the outcome of this election, continues to educate others up to and including candidates and elected officials. We need Southwest Michigan to be our home, too.

And know that the OutCenter remains steadfast in our efforts to bring people together in all our diversity, create communities that care about everyone equally, and to ensure that Southwest Michigan is a safe place for the more than 10,000 LGBTQ+ people that call it home.