Congressional Caucus Tackles LGBTQ Youth Homelessness
Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) hosted a briefing of the Congressional Homelessness Caucus on homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth on May 13, 2015. “[…] an estimated 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ,” stated a press release issued by Representatives Hastings and Johnson.
In addition to a briefing on hardships of LGBTQ homeless youth, legislation for how to improve their situation was addressed. One of the key pieces of legislation discussed was the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA), now with LGBTQ friendly wording.
Marisa Wittebort from Congressman John Yarmuth’s (D-KY) office introduced the new wording of RHYTPA, stating that it was a very exciting time for her and her boss, and encouraging those who are interested to contact their respective members of Congress and urge them to cosponsor.
“Homelessness is an issue that sees no borders and crosses all lines,” said Wittebort.
Hannah Hussey, a research associate for LGBT Progress at American Progress, said that an important aspect of the bill is that it will break the cycle of welfare being the only option for transgender youth because of job discrimination or school rejection based off transgender status, which often results in transgender youth ending up in the criminal justice system.
Kiefer Paterson, of True Colors ‘40 of the Forty,’ experienced episodes of homelessness from the age 13 to 17 as a result of his mother’s alcohol and drug use. “People who are most vulnerable, are the people who the system is designed to fail,” Paterson said, “the housing first programming is critical…it is what we need to address homelessness.”
“It is almost impossible to beat a drug problem while on the street,” said Paterson. Many shelters require sobriety before accepting homeless citizens. Paterson the law enforcement as it applies to the homeless should be reformed, offering alternatives such as family and friend intervention.
“I don’t believe the way we approach sex work and drug use is at all helpful […] law enforcement should be a last resort intervention,” Paterson said.
Director of youth services and the TransLife Center at Casa Ruby, Mally Hatcher, described the personal struggles she has been through as a transgender homeless woman.
“You do what you know best how to do,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher turned to prostitution in order to sustain herself and spoke about the emotional turmoil sex work caused her. “People in the transgender community are deeply misunderstood,” she said, “People don’t have the patience to accept or understand what we go through.”
She made a point to mention how hard it is to see people who once cared about her now unable to accept her and institutions that once benefited her, turn their back on her.
No Child Left Behind makes it very hard for a transgender child to succeed, Hatcher said, noting that teachers have little patience to deal with a child who does not go by their given name.
Obtaining work is also hard because “to be an LGBT person, you’re looked at as a liability,” Hatcher said.
She had a positive look on life, despite all of her struggles, saying that when a person gets out of a bad situation, he or she should extend a hand back to those less fortunate.
Co-founder of the Reciprocity Foundation, Taz Tagore, and Alex Fradkin, photographer of See me: Picturing New York’s Homeless Youth, presented Fradkin’s work. The Reciprocity Foundation hired Fradkin for the photo series.
Tagore wanted the work to see beyond stereotypes of homeless youth. Tagore believes that in order to fix LGBTQ Homelessness, everyone needs to see three perspectives; LGBTQ youth need more than an apartment, they need a dream. It is really important for these youth to be working toward something. “It’s always important from our perspective, to have a base of education,” Tagore said, offering education as the next perspective. The final perspective is longer term solutions; so not just getting homeless people into a house, but making sure they have the tools to sustain it.
The top five reasons LGBTQ youth become homeless are running away because of family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity, forced out by parents because of sexual orientation or gender identity, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home, aging out of the foster care system, and financial or emotional neglect from family, according to Gregory Lewis, co-founder of True Colors.
Ways to address youth homelessness were also discussed; such as, early intervention, a full range of services (including but not limited to street outreach programs, drop-in centers and housing programs), inclusive and affirming care and data collection and accountability. Lewis believes that a “pathway to permanent independence” is important because “these youth are not just looking for jobs. They want a life and a career.”
Locally, roughly 30 percent (not a perfect figure) of DC homeless youth identifies as LGBTQ, Katie Dunn, policy analyst with DC Alliance of Youth advocates (DCAYA) said.
She also said that while housing first is a really good option, for youth wraparound services are needed that prepare young adults for difficult situations, such as paying taxes, talking to a landlord, and budgeting.
“Some of these kids haven’t finished high school, they’ve never had a job, they don’t know how to fix things, or to talk to a landlord to get things fixed,” Dunn said. DCAYA stood behind the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2013, which was similar to a RHYTPA bill on a local level.
The Wanda Alston house is D.C’s only LGBTQ pre-independent youth housing program that offers young adults aged 16-24 a long-term transitional living area (up to 18 months). In addition, case management, educational guidance and support, job training and guidance, and support service referrals are offered.
Wanda Alston is now a housing only program, but it will connect the youth with the services they need, if the organization cannot provide them.
“Once kids know where they’re sleeping, they’re next order of business is getting an education or a job,” said Ken Pettigrew, executive director of the Wanda Alston Foundation.
Two of the youth of Wanda Alston are expected to graduate high school in May or June 2015, and both have applied to colleges.
Currently, 8 youths are staying with the Wanda Alston youth foundation, which is its maximum capacity. The foundation takes residents on a first come, first serve basis.