Group works to help homeless LGBT youthWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Erin Cox
Shannon Frye, executive director of Rainbow Area Youth (RAY), has worked with as many as 160 homeless youth throughout RAY’s 16 years; and those are just the youth who have told her.
RAY, a nonprofit, volunteer-based group in Toledo, provides a safe environment once a week for 13-to 19-year-olds who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and those questioning their sexual and gender identities.
According to a 2012 report by The Palette Fund, True Colors Fund and the Williams Institute, a survey of 354 agencies serving homeless youth found that 40 percent of their clientele self-identified as LGBT. The numbers may not tell the whole truth, though, Frye said, because not all youth have self-identified as LGBT, but have started to question their sexuality or gender.
In the 16 years RAY has existed, 40-100 youth have attended the group meetings each year, totaling about 1,500 youth participating in RAY, Frye said.
“Usually we see about five to 10 kids every year that find themselves homeless at some point,” Frye said.
The number of RAY youth who disclose their homelessness to Frye is probably not all who experience homelessness throughout the year, she said.
“We have problems with kids disclosing to us that they are homeless even though they know we will help them; a lot of the kids still feel shame,” Frye said.
Most of the time, LGBT youth find themselves without a stable home environment because their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression opposes what their families are comfortable with, Frye said.
Some of the youth may not remain homeless for long periods of time, but are regularly kicked out of their homes by parents who do it as some form of tough love, she said.
“Youth homelessness is a problem because it’s not just about having a place to go, it’s now they don’t have an address for school or they don’t know how they can get to school from where they’re staying,” Frye said. “They run the risk of dropping out because they don’t have that support telling them to keep going.”
The report by The Palette Fund, True Colors Fund and the Williams Institute gathered information through “The LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey,” which surveyed homeless youth agencies. It found that 94 percent of the agencies have LGBT youth using their services.
Some LGBT people experience discrimination in homeless facilities, Equality Toledo Board Chairman Paul Valdez said.
Equality Toledo, an LGBT group that works to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, has started looking into establishing an LGBT community center.
“When we’re talking about a potential need for a community center, then that’s a clear need in my mind — to provide a space for LGBT homeless youth, and others who identify as LGBT that are not youth, to be able to go to somewhere safe and not be discriminated against,” Valdez said.
“We want to make sure that there is a diverse representation of people that work with the LGBT community and provide services so that we can fully identify the need of the community center.”
The details of the LGBT community center all depend on financial feasibility, and Valdez said that is why Equality Toledo wants to start off slow in planning for it.
An LBGT community center could provide office and meeting space for many of the LGBT groups that often struggle finding space and it could grow from there to offer regular and ongoing activities, resources and support to the LGBT community, said Equality Toledo Executive Director Sherry Tripepi.
An LGBT community center would provide a stable location and space that the homeless youth Frye sees at RAY meetings could go to if they needed a resource, Frye said.
“Youth homelessness is a problem, and it’s a multifaceted problem,” Tripepi said. “It ends up having implications over most other things in kids’ lives because if they’re so concentrated at such a young age on survival, then they miss out on a lot of social stuff. They miss out on the things they are supposed to be learning how to do.”
If a community center opened up, it would be one of the better things in Toledo, Frye said, because it would provide a safe haven for the homeless youth who need a place to go beyond the weekly meeting time for RAY.