When Raphael Hartman was about to turn 18 years old, his life turned upside down.
“My Mom had just lost her job, and we ended up getting evicted,” Raphael shared. “At first, we had somewhere to stay, but that didn’t work out for long. I don’t know why—all I know is that one night when my Mom and I went back to where we were staying, the doors were locked. It was obvious that people were home, but nobody came to let us in.”
It was around 11:00pm at this point, and Raphael and his mother were in a rural community in Washington. It took them over an hour to walk to the nearest store. From there, they called around to local family shelters until they found one they could stay at for the night.
“That started my experience with homelessness,” said Raphael. “I remember feeling scared that first night because it was strange to be in a shelter. I also didn’t understand why we were forced to leave where we were staying. I was so angry and I also had a negative view of shelters, and there I was—actually in one.”
For the next six years, Raphael didn’t have a stable home. The Tacoma native also struggled with the fact that the main family shelter system in Pierce County was unwelcoming to LGBTQ individuals.
“This was before I started transitioning, so they [shelter staff] assumed I was a gay girl based on how I dressed,” Raphael reflected. “People always commented on my clothes and made other inappropriate comments. The shelter was Christian, and I remember being forced to pray and go to religious-based classes. I didn’t feel safe, and I decided that I couldn’t stay there.”
Raphael’s mother was placed in transitional housing, but he chose not to go with her because of the challenges he’d faced in the shelter. As a result, he ended up couch-surfing and doing what he could to find stability in his life—including staying in a relationship that wasn’t right for him so that he had somewhere to sleep at night.
Thankfully, Raphael was able to turn to Oasis Youth Center.
“I was going to Oasis for most of the time that I didn’t have stable housing,” he said. “One thing that I liked about Oasis was that there were always people there on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. I’d get to go in and just hang out with other people that were experiencing the same thing as me, or even if they weren’t, I didn’t have to worry about people asking unwanted questions. Oasis also helped me start my transition by connecting me to a therapist.”
Reflecting back on that time in his life, Raphael recalled, “Being homeless and in the process of transitioning, I felt like the way society viewed me changed. The lack of available resources for people in my position was a clear signal to me that my life and experiences weren’t a priority for the shelter system. I was also navigating the discrimination and negative stereotypes that are associated with being a person of color in this country.”
But Raphael didn’t let other people’s views define him or get in the way of his dreams.
Now 27 years-old, he is a Peer Housing Specialist in Tacoma, conducting screenings and in-person assessments for people who are facing homelessness. He’s an avid reader who’s passionate about social justice, and he participates in multiple committees working to build a youth shelter in Pierce County.
Raphael recognizes that, “When it comes to GLBT youth in particular—the resources that are available aren’t culturally sensitive, or aware of people’s unique situations. A lot of times that makes youth feel uncomfortable asking for help, or seeking out those resources.”
Pride Foundation is thankful to be able to support critical organizations like Oasis Youth Center, as they work to ensure that LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness have a stable place to call home.
Oasis Youth Center is a long-time grantee of Pride Foundation. In 2012, Oasis Youth Center was awarded a four-year grant through our Homeless Youth Initiative to expand their work with H4S, the first youth-specific housing program in Pierce County.
Zachary Pullin is Pride Foundation’s Communications Manager. Email Zachary.