[Ed. Note — This issue, qnotes publishes the first in several installments interviewing local LGBTQ homeless youth. Writer Francisco White interviews these young people to bring awareness and heightened attention to the challenges they face. Be sure to pick up our next several print editions for more in this series.]
According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 20 to 40 percent of youth who are homeless nationwide identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning (LGBTQ). A walk through Uptown Charlotte makes apparent the crisis of homelessness affecting local youth, one that reflects this nationwide trend. Unfortunately, it’s a crisis that local government and social services are seemingly ill-equipped to handle.
As community leaders have sporadically discussed the issue among themselves, the voices of these young Charlotteans have not been heard. A’meir, 23, agreed to speak openly with qnotes about his experience as a homeless gay youth in the Queen City and offers some insight on the barriers to self-sufficiency. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Francisco White: Thank you for allowing us to share your story. How long have you been homeless?
A’meir: I’ve been chronically homeless for five years.
And what would you say led to your chronic homelessness?
At 15, I was ostracized by my family and kicked out for being gay, with no income and not able to work. At the time, I don’t think South Carolina had any process for a minor to emancipate himself. It was a failure to launch. At an early age, street living and a criminal skill set was instilled. I used my body, shoplifted, crafted.
Since you’ve been in Charlotte, what has been your experience navigating the available services for people who are homeless?
My experience has been that the majority of people in Charlotte assume if you’re young you don’t have a reason or excuse to be homeless, despite whatever you may have going on. They assume if you’re young, you’re able. And, it’s very hard to find assistance with your homelessness, especially if you’re LGBTQ.
In addition to not having a stable place to live, what other struggles do you face?
I deal with substance abuse, some depression and anxiety, and HIV that is directly related to my substance abuse. I was an IV drug user.
How do you manage living with HIV while dealing with homelessness?
Despite managing my HIV well, it doesn’t come without challenges. For example, the shelter requires that you tell them about any medications you take and they hold them to distribute to you at certain times. So, you have to disclose. In a shelter, someone who discloses their HIV status is ostracized and the staff gets uncomfortable when you disclose.
Tell me more about that. What’s it like to be a gay, HIV positive man in the local shelter system?
I deal with staff there who are noticeably and continuously uncomfortable dealing with a gay client living with HIV. I think the stigma is that gay men in a shelter environment will be promiscuous or even spread HIV. We’re scrutinized. When we form any close relationships there, even just platonic, we’re scrutinized.
What’s not being done locally, for you and others facing similar circumstances?
I find it hard to navigate the different organizations because of their umbrella or catch-all approach. There needs to be a more individualized approach to helping people. We have a plethora of situations and experiences, but we’re all grouped together and served that way. I just need stability. I need stability that does not stifle. I need stability that does not just tolerate me. I need genuine help, not just because it’s someone’s job or because I’m just another number on a list. : :
— Francisco White has contributed to Boston Spirit Magazine and blogs at FranciscoLWhite.com. White currently resides in Charlotte where he is the EPY Peer Navigator at RAIN and serves on the board of directors for Charlotte Black Gay Pride. He was an at-large Boston City Council candidate in the 2013 race, endorsed by the state Green Party and the party’s 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Jill Stein.