Serving an invisible population

​Natasha Slesnick
Professor, College of Education and Human Ecology

Share this article

To support the more than 1,500 homeless youth living on the streets of central Ohio, Star House founder Natasha Slesnick is shining a light on a population that has been invisible for far too long.

Homeless youth are one of our society’s most vulnerable populations. But they aren’t easy to spot. With hoodies and caps on, they look similar to any high school or college student.

They often hide the emotional and physical scars of their childhood abuse, mental and sexual abuse, street victimization, suicide attempts and marginalization by the larger society.

Not looking to return to abusive homes, these young adults, ages 14 to 24, travel from one friend’s couch to another, live in abandoned buildings and even camp in the woods.

Even though they are among our most vulnerable populations, very few targeted services exist for them. These young people have the potential to contribute great things to our Columbus community. They are artists, teachers, doctors, real estate agents and entrepreneurs in the making. 

Without intervention, though, these kids are at risk of bringing chronic homelessness, substance abuse and mental health problems into adulthood. They are also at risk for premature death.

Ohio State is invested in community engagement

Star House, the nation’s only research-based drop-in center, works to pull these young people out from the fringes of society and help them experience care, love and connection.

When our most vulnerable communities thrive, our entire society thrives.

In keeping with President Michael V. Drake’s 2020 Vision for the university, Ohio State’s Star House connects our land-grant institution to the homeless youth community to uplift and save lives.

It’s not a shelter. It’s a safe respite where youth can regroup, recover and reconnect.

Star House’s services include:

  • Fulfilling immediate needs, such as showering, washing clothes and eating
  • Offering therapy, career counseling and referrals to agencies
  • Opening a gateway back to the mainstream by offering help for getting birth certificates and IDs so youth can apply for jobs and school

Star House also aims to serve as a data hub, contributing to homeless youth statistics across the state.

Ohio State faculty and graduate student researchers are determining the best interventions and therapies for homeless youth. Their work can be used across the nation to ease the problems of an estimated 2 million of these youth.

Growing to meet population needs

Thanks to U.S. Rep. Cheryl Grossman, Star House has operated 24 hours a day and seven days a week since January 2014.

This improvement allowed more youth to utilize the drop-in center’s services. Drop-in numbers have increased from 250 youth who accessed services in 2009 to 724 who accessed services in 2014.

The cramped three-bedroom home serving as the drop-in center, located in the Weinland Park neighborhood, had severe limitations, including a small space for storage, a tiny kitchen and two bathrooms. With a capacity of only 25, many youth had to be turned away due to space limits.

On Oct. 6, 2015, that changed.

With support from Terry O’Connell, who serves as the Star House advisory board chair, the College of Education and Human Ecology and many donors, Star House has raised more than $1.5 million in donations to purchase a larger location.

The new 14,000-square-foot building, located at 1220 Corrugated Way, offers a one-stop shop for homeless youth. It now includes a medical room staffed by nurses and doctors from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The new drop-in center has enough space to begin a social enterprise operation, where homeless young people will learn employment skills and earn money so they can save money for an apartment and find a job.

This will allow the homeless youth to leave the streets for good.

Through support from Star House, The Ohio State University is uniquely positioned to train the next generation of researchers and providers to effectively end youth homelessness.

To support Star House, give to the Homeless Youth Fund.
Your donation will allow Star House to provide direct outreach, mental health and trauma therapy, nutritious meals and many more services to youth living on the streets of central Ohio. If you would like to make a multi-year pledge, please contact Andrea Bowlin, chief advancement officer, 614-292-6516.

About the author

​Natasha Slesnick
​Natasha Slesnick -
Professor, College of Education and Human Ecology

Natasha Slesnick is professor of Human Development and Family Science and a licensed clinical psychologist in the College of Education and Human Ecology. Her research focuses on homelessness, substance abuse, child abuse, depression and high-risk behavior. She is the founder of Star House, the nation’s only research-based drop-in center for homeless youth.


Buckeye Voices — Commentary from The Ohio State University