Resident found dead at Center’s Youth Housing Project

Drug overdose suspected, drug paraphernalia found at scene

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Michael Pilcher, a 21-year-old resident of The San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Youth Housing Project, was found dead inside his apartment at the East Village location, on Monday, June 29.

“The resident’s body was discovered morning by on-site staff and the appropriate authorities were immediately notified,” said Delores Jacobs, The Center’s chief executive officer.

Pilcher died June 29 shortly after 10 a.m. of an apparent drug overdose, according to the Medical Examiner, who performed an autopsy on Pilcher on Tuesday. “That information, however, cannot be confirmed until completion of toxicology tests, which can take up to 90 days,” said Alina Stovey, the San Diego County Medical Examiner investigator, who was at the scene. “Drug paraphernalia was located at the scene.”

Pilcher was from North Carolina and lived at Sunburst for nearly a year. According to friends and residents of the facility who wish to remain anonymous, Pilcher’s drug use was no secret. Heroin and methamphetamine were his drugs of choice.

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While the exact cause of death is still currently under review by the Medical Examiner, Jacobs said San Diego police officers found no indications of foul play, nor any indications that YHP residents or staff were at any risk.

“We are deeply saddened by this loss. As we’ve developed this program, we have always been aware of the challenges that these young people would continue to face — even after they were housed — as a result of the abuse and neglect that comes from homophobia and homelessness,” Jacobs said. “This is a sad and painful reminder of just how high those costs can sometimes be.”

The 23-unit, tangerine-colored edifice situated in Downtown San Diego provides affordable housing for GLBT and HIV-positive youth ages 18 to 24.

In addition to housing, The Center offers the youth residents a range of support services, including case management, health and mental health services and educational support and job training opportunities.

In July 2007, San Diego Police Department served a search warrant on a residence at the Youth Housing Project and took into custody Samuel Tabor, 25-year-old resident, who was charged and convicted a large quantity of ecstasy tablets.

According to Sunburst Housing Project administration that was the first incident of that degree at the facility.

Pilcher’s death was also said to be the first death since the Youth Housing Project opened in February 2006.

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Many of the residents have been estranged from their homes and/or have transitioned out of foster care. But if they exceed the 24-year age limit, as was the case with Tabor, they are not kicked out, Jacobs said. “They can stay until they have developed the resources to move on to another stable living environment. For some of them that can be two to three months, for others it is longer.”

Still, if any resident is found in possession of drugs, they are served with an eviction notice, Jacobs said. “Drugs are illegal and we have a zero tolerance policy for such issues,” she said, noting to her knowledge that is the policy at any residential facility.

Jacobs said, however, that residents do not undergo narcotics testing prior to entering the facility, and no routine testing is performed while they are living at the facilities.

“Unfortunately, merely providing drug testing does not stop drug use. We are not naive and are fully aware that if we are going to provide services and housing to homeless youth, then we are going to face such problems. Youth come with backgrounds that include all kinds of challenges. That is why there are services available for them on site,” she said.

As Jacobs stood outside the Sunburst Apartments as the Medical Examiner performed its investigation, she reiterated that The Center remains committed to these young people, and will ensure that appropriate grief counseling and other support services are available to the residents and staff of the Youth Housing Project. Jacobs said that, as the facts become known, The Center’s management will review the information and all relevant policies to confirm that all appropriate steps were taken in order to prevent such a tragedy.

“Moments like this certainly further strengthen our resolve to provide services for these vulnerable — and valuable — young adults,” she said.

This article was originally published July 2 by the Gay & Lesbian Times of San Diego and is reprinted with permission. Writer Randy Hope is editor.

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