Imagine you are a teenager who was kicked out of your home because of who you love or how you express yourself. Imagine seeking out resources or shelter only to face more questions, misunderstandings, and shame. Imagine trying to establish your life and hold down a job while having to also worry about where you might sleep tonight.
For many LGBT youth, this is more than an imagined scenario. It is reality. But Pride Foundation, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and private donors, is working to change that picture.
In January 2013, Pride Foundation was awarded a grant of $400,000 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a new Homeless LGBTQ Youth Initiative. The four-year program is designed to fund innovative, collaborative approaches addressing the unique needs of homeless LGBTQ youth in Washington State and Portland, Oregon. The goal of the initiative is to build the capacity of service providers to address the needs of homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults (ages 12 to 25), especially those living in more rural and remote communities.
“LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented among homeless youth, and may make up as much as 50 percent of the total homeless youth population on any given night,” says Pride Foundation Executive Director Kris Hermanns.
The first steps forward for the initiative occurred last October, when Pride Foundation invested a combined $210,000 in the work of Northwest Youth Services (Bellingham, WA), Oasis Youth Center (Tacoma, WA), and Odyssey Youth Center (Spokane, WA).
Now, a year after announcing a call for proposals, Pride Foundation continues working to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness, but with its focus on King County. On January 22, 2014 representatives from more than two dozen organizations gathered to discuss the next steps. The meeting consisted of funders, providers, and government agencies, as well as eight formerly homeless youth now representing the Mockingbird Society and the Northwest Network. The day included a presentation by Dr. Jama Shelton of the Forty to None Project on the unique challenges faced by homeless LGBTQ youth. Participants also helped imagine new and innovative solutions drawn from their own experiences in the field.
LGBTQ youth who have endured homelessness routinely struggle when trying to navigate social services and programs. They commonly fall through the cracks related to unsafe programs or non-affirming policies, housing, employment barriers, a lack of a safety net or permanent connections, and a timeline that ignores the structural barriers for queer youth to succeed. In addition, transgender youth routinely confront barriers around legal names, dress codes, inappropriate questions, and sex-segregated programs. But each of these unique challenges has potential for an innovative solution, and that’s what Pride Foundation is working toward.
King County and Washington State have the opportunity to move to the forefront of the fight to eliminate LGBTQ youth homelessness. We know through research that nearly all providers report working with LGBTQ youth, and that only 24 percent of LGBTQ youth report accessing LGBTQ-specific services.[i] This means that it is important to elevate all service providers in a smart, comprehensive way. By increasing the capacity of non-targeted service providers to assist those most vulnerable—youth of color and LGBTQ youth—all youth are better served.
Already, the “Comprehensive Plan to Prevent and End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in King County by 2020” (“the Comprehensive Plan”) includes addressing the disproportionality of youth of color and LGBT youth, and the point-in-time counts include sexual identity and gender identity of youth. Point-in-time counts are an annual data collection event focusing on people experiencing homelessness; service providers and volunteers team up to conduct surveys with people at emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, and people without adequate shelter. This accurate data collection moves King County forward with the plan to address the needs of youth who identify as LGBTQ.
But these things alone will not change the landscape for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. Two major themes emerged from providers last week: the need for reliable, accountable training and the need to establish a strong network of resources. No LGBTQ youth should ever be turned away or treated unfairly based on their sexual identity when seeking housing or related resources.
Pride Foundation, respects the experience of those who have been doing this work for decades, and we are ready to invest in a coordinated network of providers so that this plan becomes a reality. We plan to invest $40,000 per year over the next four years to services in King County and we are committed to raising additional funds specifically for the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Initiative. Working together, we can change the lives of LGBTQ youth enduring homelessness.
Skye Newkirk is a University of Washington MSW Intern supporting Pride Foundation’s programs. Email Skye.
[i] From Serving Our Youth: Findings from the National Survey of Service Providers Working with LGBT Youth Who Are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless. http://truecolorsfund.org/news/94-of-homeless-youth-service-providers-report-serving-lgbt-youth