National Homelessness and Hunger week rings in new project for LGBT community
Over the past four years, Houston has cut down the number of people living on the streets by 46 percent, according to the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County’s report.
Despite its increased growth, the LGBT community hasn’t had as much assistance in terms of homelessness. A recent study shows 25 percent of the homeless population are LGBT, many of whom endure abuse or neglect in the streets.
When UH Downtown social work senior and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans equality issues activist T.S. Williams was 15, he found himself without a place to call home for seven years.
“I was in between San Francisco and Seattle, trying to find resources was a challenge, housing was difficult when I was a young age when I was afraid to be put into a foster system,” Williams said. “It was hard to find consistency.”
This year’s National Homeless and Hunger Awareness week began Saturday and ends Sunday, and in honor of the title, UH social work assistant professor Sara Narendorf believes the community is ready to tackle the complex issue of youth homelessness, in particular those who are defined outside the society norm.
“One of the things that was preventing (efficient) child service deliveries for homeless youths was not knowing really about how find them, count them and how to cater to their service needs,” Narendorf said.
According to Narendorf’s survey study, out of the 424 homeless kids surveyed in the city, one out of four identified themselves as LGBT. Those identified in the study suffered high rates of psychological distress and more than a third attempted suicide, statistically higher than their heterosexual homeless peers.
“They face multiple overlapping risks that make them an especially vulnerable group,” she said.
The study also shows that out of the 424 teens surveyed, those who turn 18 are the highest group to become homeless, roughly 20 percent.
“I know that our community has been more focused on veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness,” Narendorf said. “I think there was a decision in Harris County that perceived that it was an easier problem to solve. That sort of was the first step into finding the need for adults who were homeless and so community wise, they are now increasing their attention to this which I think is a great first step.”
Metropolitan Volunteer Program Director and mathematical finance junior Christopher Pinto has worked closely with many homeless volunteer programs but won’t be able to help those from the LGBT community this year.
“We have to be over the age of 25,” he said. “And that surprised me. I didn’t know that.”
According to Narendorf’s study, 30 percent of those LGBT kids in Houston had no shelter, and 42 percent had traded sex for food or housing.
Homeless Gay Kids is aiming to change that. The organization, recently established by the Association for Family and Community Integrity, aims to provide direct support, including basic survival needs and life skills, to the hundreds of homeless LGBT teens in the city.
T.S. Williams, one of the board members of the group, hopes to gives these teens the choices he didn’t have at the time.
“Finding resources was a challenge, housing was extremely difficult when I was young because I was afraid I’d be put into a foster shelter,” Williams said. “This program will (offer) a place for all young people who may not know where to go for a safe place. They can find it with us.”
By next year, the organization plans to raise $300,000 to build an LGBT-specific youth drop-in center that will run seven days a week, according to its website. It will offer meals, support programs, counseling, therapy and even medical and dental services.
Williams hopes that the youth can find light in the darkest places, even when things aren’t yet looking up.
“It is possible to look forward, I was able to end the cycle of homelessness after seven years and become a fighting member of the community,” Williams said. “I’m in a position where I can actually give back and get people some help out of these situations.”
Williams said they are looking at two locations to decide where to open the HGK–H organization in the spring of 2016. For now, the location has yet to be disclosed yet.
“We hope to provide these resources to ideally end this tragic cycle of homelessness,” Williams said.