Tom came around often and never gave up on me. He absolutely refused to believe that my parents didn’t care about me or want me in their home.
“If you want to drive out and meet my parents, we can do it,” I said, giving in. Knowing well in advance what the result would be. Even though I hated the idea of going there, I let him take me … on the condition that he brought me back downtown when his magical outreach powers didn’t work.
We pulled into my parents’ driveway and before we even got out of the car, my father came outside screaming. “Get the hell out of here you assholes! Stay away from my house!!”
“Mr. Early, I just want to talk to you and Mrs. Early about your son and his situation. He is living on the streets, which are very dangerous. And I thought…”
My father cut him off. “You thought wrong. That little faggot will not live in my house! He is a criminal! Get the hell out of here and take that little son-of-a-bitch with you!”
From “Street Child: A Memoir”
by Justin Reed Early
Although Justin Early’s book “Street Child,” published in 2013 and based on his experiences near the latter part of the 20th century as a homeless youth (beginning at the mind-boggling age of 10), the story he tells still carries weight for homeless LGBTQ youth today.
There are a myriad of reasons young people find themselves homeless: parents who don’t approve of their sexuality or gender identity, broken dysfunctional homes, mental illness, physical abuse, bullying by classmates, siblings and other neighborhood children.
In Early’s case, he was victimized by a disapproving, abusive father and a submissive mother who feared her husband and was unable to stand up for her son, which prompted Early to run away from home, ending up on the streets of Seattle.
Remarkably, he survived and lived to tell his story. With so many LGBTQ youth, that is not always the case.
Many are forced to turn to prostitution and theft to survive. Some fall victim to an array of criminal activity. If you’re under the age of 18 and apprehended by authorities, homeless youth are required to return to their birth family or legally recognized guardians.
While statistics on the percentage of homeless youth in the U.S. who identify as LGBTQ varies, general estimates tend to fall somewhere between 11 and 40 percent. In smaller towns, the percentage is much lower. However, in larger cities, places like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, and even Charlotte, the statistics lean towards the much higher rate.
LGBTQ youth (and young people in general facing hardship and lack of acceptance) in smaller towns tend to leave their communities and head for the largest nearby city.
There’s no question that cities such as today’s Charlotte offers an accepting environment.
It’s large and progressive and people want to live here. Lots of people want to live here.
Therein lies the largest contributing factor.
All too often the very thing that draws a troubled LGBTQ youth to a metropolitan environment is the very thing that ends up making them homeless: currently, there is no place in the entire country where anyone making the federal minimum wage can afford to live in an apartment by themselves.
Not even in most of the small towns, so many young gay people left behind.
Lack of adequate paying jobs, along with unattainable housing, equals homelessness.
That’s a formula unlikely to change under the current administration.
Being a young individual facing homelessness, and especially coming from a troubled or financially challenged home, carries with it a distinct set of challenges. Adding to the mix sexual orientation or gender identity can make reaching out for assistance even more problematic.
In an interview I conducted for Etcetera Magazine in the mid-1990s with actress and television and film producer Amanda Bearse (probably best known for her role as Marcy D’Arcy in the series “Married With Children), she discussed her experiences as a lesbian and seeking shelter with organizations that weres available at that time.
“I went to the Salvation Army shelter,” she recalled. “My girlfriend at the time came with me.
“They refused to allow us to be housed near each other because of their religious policies and our relationship.
“It was awful. And unfair. That kind of hateful discrimination made it even more uncomfortable. Especially when you saw heterosexual married couples sharing spaces.
“Other people who were there, and staff, were openly hostile, and we were treated like something less than second-class citizens.”
What are solutions for homeless LGBTQ youth that work?
Although it seems unthinkable in the 21st century, one option to consider when a known-to-be-conservative faith-based organization such as Salvation Army is your only alternative: don’t discuss your sexual orientation. Keep it completely off the table and make it a closed subject.
More than likely, however, that won’t be necessary. Especially in larger cities.
On America’s west coast in San Francisco there is the Larkin Street Center.
While San Francisco is appealing to many young people because it is largely viewed as the center of LGBTQ culture in this country, the price of residency in the city is unobtainable for many people.
It’s understandable how so many LGBTQ youth become homeless in the city.
The Larkin Street Center has provided help for more than 75,000 young people since 1984.
Among their programs is an on-the-street outreach effort, which offers food, clothing, and harm reduction tool kits.
A daytime drop-in center provides meals, showers, a medical clinic, laundry facilities and various group activities. There’s also the opportunity to meet with a case manager, which can lead to immediate help for youth that are living on the street.
Larkin’s Diamond Youth Shelter is one of only two emergency shelters for young people under the age of 18 in San Francisco, while the Lark Inn shelter offers temporary residency for youth ages 18-24.
The 1020 Haight site and Geary House provide two-year housing programs in a specific residential site in congregated environments.
The Castro Youth Housing Initiative does two-year residencies, as well, at scattered-site houses throughout the city.
There are additional programs and housing opportunities that function under the Larkin Street umbrella, including financial aid, which allows youth to eventually find homes of their own, and employment programs that allow area youth to maintain their independence.
Overall, Larkin Street is one of, if not the most comprehensive examples of how help for LGBTQ youth should function.
Back on the East coast, there’s the Ali Forney Center (AFC) in New York City. It’s clearly another excellent example of serious solution services that are available for LGBTQ youth.
The Forney Center provides emergency housing, transitional living environments, programs and resources for employment and health care.
Just over four years ago the Forney Center’s central location became the country’s first 24-hour drop-in center.
Youth can come to the center at any time of the day or night and have access to meals, showers, clothing, mental health support and case management.
In addition to workshops and support groups, the Forney Center offers extended living housing facilities throughout the city.
Casa Ruby in Washington, D.C. is the only LGBTQ multilingual and multicultural group in the Washington, D.C., area that provides services and programs for youth and adults. While it’s focus tends to lean toward transgender individuals, the organization refers to itself as a “home for everyone,” which means that services are available for transgender, genderqueer and gender-non-conforming gay, lesbian and bisexual people throughout the area.
Among those services are preventive healthcare, housing services, which provides living arrangements that range from shelter for a night or two to longer-term housing.
Individual case management is available, as well as help for immigrants and victims of domestic violence.
While many people in this country look to New York and San Francisco as the beginning of the Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Movement, historical records confirm that protests and a movement began in Philadelphia earlier in the mid-1960s.
Given that history, it comes as no surprise that Philadelphia would be one of the leading cities to offer services and housing for LGBTQ folk in need.
The Valley Youth House, which opened its doors in 2009, is the longest-running housing program for youth in Philadelphia. The organization provides housing and supportive services in comfortable surroundings, which allow individuals to transition from youth to young adulthood in a safe and supportive environment.
Although it is not a housing program, The Attic Youth Center provides much-needed support for LGBTQ youth in the Philadelphia area. Originally founded in 1993, it began as an experimental offshoot of another organization known as Voyage House. While the original intent was to be a temporary, experimental effort, the large number of youth that showed up to participate proved the need for such a program.
The Attic offers education and training for working with LGBTQ youth in schools and workplaces. It also provides creative and social programs, psychological counseling and health and wellness programming.
One of the most impressive efforts in Philadelphia is the Gloria Casarez Residence. A new construction, it is a significant undertaking. While it has provided 30 apartments for young adults who are at risk of homelessness and have aged out of the foster care system, it is no longer accepting applications for residency because it is full. That doesn’t mean it has been unsuccessful, however, it does indicate a requirement for more space to meet community needs.
Atlanta-based Lost and Found Youth offers support 24 hours a day and seven days a week for LGBTQ youth ages 18 through 25. Among the services they provide are emergency and transitional housing, clothing and food for youth living on the street, mental health evaluations, assistance with any necessary government documentation, GED testing and other resources, such as help with resume writing and interview skills training.
Currently, the organization maintains a drop-in center with limited hours of operation. In the upcoming fiscal year, they hope to increase the operational hours, develop ongoing relationships with job resources and increase funding for additional housing. Here’s an anomaly not found in our computer and aptiv in the world so much these days: if you’re in the Atlanta area and you need someone to talk to, you can call them directly at 678-856-7825.
In Charlotte, Time Out Youth Center offers a housing program for LGBTQ youth aged 18 to 23. The state of North Carolina mandates family reunification for youth under that age, although that isn’t always possible.
Every youth who identifies as part of the LGBTQ spectrum and is seeking help is assigned a caseworker. If they are under 18, efforts are made to reach out to family. If necessary, the Department of Social Services is contacted to help find appropriate housing.
The organization works directly with other homeless groups across the city and county, including the Men’s Shelter.
“Emergency shelter services can be a very unsafe experience for trans youth,” explains Rodney Tucker, executive director for Time Out Youth. “It can also be very scary for lesbian and gay youth. That’s why we have implemented specific efforts to reach out to mainstream shelters and educate them about the special needs of the LGBTQ community.”
Temporary shelter stays generally last from three to five days.
Time Out Youth offers a rapid re-housing fund, which can provide up to a one-year subsidy for housing.
Depending on the individual needs, a Time Out Youth caseworker can work with an individual from four to 12 months in an effort to help find possible roommates, a job or individual housing.
A comprehensive housing program is in the works to develop a facility that would provide direct housing for LGBTQ youth. Hopes are that the effort will be implemented in 2020.
While Time Out Youth is LGBTQ specific, another option to consider in Charlotte and across the Americas is the very gay-friendly Covenant House.
While there is a faith-based element to the organization, they are quick to point out that their services are for all.
Other North Carolina Housing Options
Throughout North Carolina, there are homeless help options to choose from for LGBTQ youth facing homelessness.
The Triangle Empowerment Center
(working with LGBTQ folk facing homelessness of all ages)
This story was produced by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of six media companies working together in an effort started by the Solutions Journalism Network and funded by The Knight Foundation.