We Are Family: Hosting LGBTQ Homeless Youth in Seattle

According to the Seattle Police Department, there are anywhere from 500-2,000 homeless youth living on the streets of Seattle on any given night. The same report estimates that nearly 50% of these youth are LGBTQ teens, which is more than double the national proportion (of 20%).

The National Coalition for the Homeless reports the unique dilemmas that LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) youth face:

  • The primary reported cause of homelessness among youth is family conflict and abuse.
  • Once homeless, LGBTQI youth are at greater risk of mental health problems, sexual victimization, exploitation and unsafe sexual practices than heterosexual youth.
  • LGBTQI youth are nearly 7.4 times more likely to experience sexual violence than non-queer homeless youth.
  • LGBTQI youth experiencing homelessness commit suicide at a rate of 62%, compared to 29% of their straight counterparts.

We Are Family (WAF) is a local community-driven effort to build the foundation for an LGBTQI Host Home Program here in Seattle. It currently relies exclusively on volunteer labor.

We Are Family’s leadershp is basing their program model on The GLBT Host Home Program (HHP) in Minneapolis, MN. HHP is a community-owned program of Avenues for Homeless Youth, which uniquely addresses the problem of homelessness among LGBTQI  youth. The program connects these youth with LGBTQI housed adults in the community who are trained to host the youth in their homes.

We Are Family began as a sub-project of Seattle Street Youth Empowerment Project (SSYEP), a formerly homeless youth-led project to create a homeless youth-led drop-in center. WAF organizers meet weekly from September 2011 to April 2012.

During this time, the organizers:

  • Conducted a program evaluation of Minnesota’s program and participated in their 2-day host training.
  • Partnered with Out in Front, a LGBTQ leadership training program, to create a community survey.
  • Created documents on housing privileg.
  • Hosted a community roundtable to present the lessons learned from their program.
  • Recruited 10 Interim Advisory Council members.

The Interim Advisory Council are temporary 3-month volunteer positions for the purposes of identifying longer-term Advisory Council Members, and doing the groundwork to enable the longer-term leadership to formalize the Host Program.

Do you want to support We Are Family’s efforts? Check out their Facebook Page to find out details of upcoming events and what the Interim Advisory Council is doing. Like many programs working for social change, funding is the biggest need. Currently, all funds raised are dedicated to compensating youth for their time in leadership roles and creating outreach materials.

Additional stated needs include:

  • A host organization with 501(c)3 status that values WAF’s autonomy and community-owned strategy.
  • Bus tickets (for youth).
  • Web designer, social media extraordinaire, video bloggers.
  • Volunteers for outreach and fundraising.
  • People interested in hosting youth.
  • Volunteer trainers for training hosts: anti-oppression, transgender awareness, homelessness 101, becoming trauma informed etc.

To get more information or to join this effort, please contact the current leadership at: wearefamilyseattle@gmail.com.

Special thanks to dylan & Ilana from the Interim Advisory Council of We Are Family for this data and content.

Uma Rao is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Western Washington. For more information or to get citations for the studies referenced in this piece, email Uma.

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