by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On any given night there are from 500 to 2,000 homeless youth in Seattle according to Seattle Police Department estimates. Half of them are LGBT teens.
'A study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless puts the figure at 42%. Other studies support the estimate,' Melinda Giovengo, Ph.D., executive director of YouthCare told Seattle Gay News. 'In my opinion, the real figure is almost certainly higher. After all, surveys only tell us how many of these young people are ready to self-identify as LGBT. When untold numbers are kicked out of their homes or finally flee, often after violent abuse, simply for being Gay or even questioning, we can assume that many more are keeping silent.'
YouthCare is an organization with over 35 years of experience and national stature. From dry socks and meals for youth on the street, to residential and other site-based programs that make for success upon independence, YouthCare is unusual in this community for its ability to provide - on its own and with partners - services of the necessary scope.
How do these young people end up on the streets? They run. In a survey of over 600 YouthCare clients, 74% reported physical abuse and 39% reported sexual abuse before becoming homeless. They're rejected. Consider the 20%-40% of homeless youth are rejected by their families because they came out, or were just suspected of being Gay. Families break. Even in the best of times families come undone. YouthCare clients have told officials, 'My parents just couldn't afford to keep me.'
'I recall all too clearly what being young and Gay can mean in this society,' Giovengo told SGN. 'My own experience is off the point, but I call myself fortunate; as executive director of YouthCare, I work on behalf of youth who have experienced rejection and fear of the worst kind imaginable.'
LGBT homeless youth statistics are staggering and paint a very tragic and desperate picture. There are 1.6 million homeless American youth and LGBT kids make up nearly half of that. Given that between 3% and 5% of the U.S. population identifies as LGBT, it is clear that LGBT youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, the likelihood of being a victim of crime increases sevenfold just by virtue of identifying as LGBT. Sadly, 26% of youth who come out to their parents as LGBT are kicked out of their homes. It is estimated that 25-33% of all homeless youth have engaged in survival sex. 42% of LGBT youth abuse alcohol and nearly 50% of LGBT homeless youth have attempted suicide.
To deal with LGBT youth, YouthCare created ISIS House in 1998 - the first transitional living program for homeless sexual minorities in the Pacific Northwest. ISIS House remains the only such source in the region. ISIS House provides ten beds of transitional housing and support services for young adults ages 18-21.
The major program goal at ISIS House is healthy independence, which clients advance by achieving a GED or high school diploma, maintaining employment, or consistently attending school or vocational training. Residents are able to stay for up to two years at the House. This extended stay helps youth establish a secure income and effectively address barriers to permanent housing. ISIS House is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
ISIS House is a part of YouthCare's 'continuum of care' in three areas: engage, stabilize and prepare.
In order to engage homeless youth, YouthCare officials do street outreach four evenings a week and provide clinic transport, hand out food, clothing and health items and educate the youth about the services available to them.
YouthCare also works to stabilize homeless teens. Drop-in centers like the James W. Ray Orion Center, Adolescent Emergency Shelter, Casa De Los Amigos, Pathways, Passages, and Catalyst at Straley House, ISIS House, Open Doors, and The Kenneth and Marleen Alhadeff Home of Hope Apartments offer an array of transitional beds for various age groups.
As part of YouthCare's 'continuum of care' prepare program, the organization offers education and employment training.
The Bridge, a recovery program for sexually exploited youth provides victims with intervention and outreach, emergency shelter, transitional and stable housing and long-term treatment.
'YouthCare provides and coordinates the most comprehensive set of services available to homeless youth in this community and region. It's an organization of national stature, yet we struggle constantly for funding, not just to innovate but to maintain the programs that knit together the 'continuum of care' these young people need and deserve,' said Giovengo. 'This is especially true now. Times are difficult for families and businesses, and the very idea of using government to help the most vulnerable among us is under strong, steady attack. Now more than ever we need our community's support to help sustain our programs for LGBT homeless youth.'
You can help. To learn more about YouthCare and ISIS House, to make a donation or to find out how to volunteer contact Deborah Edison, director of development, at (206) 267-3074, or email at Deborah.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit YouthCare online at www.youthcare.org.
Homeless? If you are 12 to 17 and seeking shelter, call 800-495-7802. If you are under 24, get to the Orion Center (1828 Yale Ave., Denny and Stewart). Or visit www.youthcare.org and click on 'Find Help Now.'
Last year, more than 3,300 homeless youth accessed YouthCare services. From food and shelter to employment and education, YouthCare provides services that can turn a kid in a doorway into a kid in school, an adult on the job, an independent and stable citizen.
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