by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Christmas Day is approaching and with each passing hour some of us will scramble to the nearest retailer to buy that last minute present we forgot to buy for that 'somebody' that we can barely remember anything about anyway. But, it is the office Christmas Party after all, and you did draw their name. You wouldn't want to look rude or uncaring would you?
And so it goes. As it always does. 'Somebody' will get 'something' from you and it won't matter one way or the other - except to save face at an inter-office party, school function, or what have you. This is not going to change. And that is not in the least bit my concern.
My concern is, and if you'll excuse the interjection of values, one that I hope becomes your concern by the time you are finished reading this editorial.
There is somebody you forgot this year. There's actually more than one, really. To be perfectly blunt, they make up 40 percent of all homeless youth; I am talking about LGBTQ homeless youth, of course. Don't blush or be offended, because I'm sure you didn't know. After all ... you wouldn't want to look rude or uncaring would you? But, now you know.
Now, in my opinion, if you are able, you must do something. We are not going to wish or pray these kids out of harm's way and into a warm home, with new clothes and a brand new car. Life is not a goddamned episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show or Touched by an Angel for that matter. Instead, for these youth, life is hard and if their lives were to mirror anything on television, it wouldn't be network TV; you'd have to get cable, because what they see and what they go through isn't as easy as a 'feel good' message at the end of a family sitcom. Likewise, while many of these youth deal with sex and drugs (without the rock n' roll), their lives also cannot be romanticized like the ghetto is in modern day films about street gangs, just like the way the mafia was propelled to pop culture popularity in the 1990s. All of that is amateur bullshit as far as these youth are concerned; that is b roll.
Let me show why.
Here are some numbers that should really get your blood boiling:
o LGBT youth make up forty percent of homeless youth on the street each day, despite only 10 percent of the general population believed to be LGBT.
o Thirteen kids die on the street each day.
o Nearly 3 million young Americans are homeless and it is impossible to know how many undocumented young people are homeless at this point.
o 1.7 million adolescents experience at least one episode of homelessness a year.
o 1 in 3 Transgender youth will be turned away from a shelter due to their gender identity/expression.
According to StandUp For Kids, a 501©3 nonprofit organization that deals directly with the issue, young people frequently report severe family conflict as the primary reason for their homelessness. Here's more:
o 63 percent leave because of a conflict at home.
o 39 percent report their family will not tolerate their presence for a variety of reasons.
o 24 percent report parental substance abuse.
o 19 percent say criminal activity.
o 22 percent flee the risk of emotional abuse.
o 7 percent say their sexual orientation is unacceptable to their parent or guardian.
Homeless or not, there also exist major challenges for LGBTQ youth, like:
o LGBTQ youth report double the rates of sexual abuse before age 12.
o 1 in 2 experienced a negative reaction from their parents when they came out.
o 86 percent of Gay and Lesbian students surveyed report being verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation.
o 22 percent surveyed LGBTQ students report being physically attacked in school; of those, 60 percent did not tell any authority figure about the incident because they believe no one would care.
o 78 percent of Transgender youth are harassed in K-12.
o 19 percent of Transgender people experience homelessness.
If LGBTQ youth become homeless:
o They are at increased risk of victimization and suffer higher rates of mental health problems and unsafe sexual behavior than their straight counterparts.
o They have a 62 percent youth suicide rate.
o 58 percent report they are sexually assaulted.
o 82 percent pf homeless youth in a small study in Hollywood, California, reported at least one mental health problem.
Substance abuse is another devastating problem for the general homeless youth population.
There are things that you can do to help. Social Outreach Seattle, the social justice nonprofit that I founded and am currently president of, and many other local groups are working on this problem. There are three main reasons why LGBTQ youth stay on the streets; changing these conditions will likely be the key to solving homelessness:
1. Affordable housing is scarce and LGBTQ discrimination in homeless shelters makes finding a home challenging.
2. An incomplete education makes it difficult for youth to secure work that pays a livable wage.
3. Drug abuse was cited as a key reason for remaining severely poor or homeless.
Hopefully, you've reached for this and are still with me at this point in the editorial. I would like for you to pledge that now, armed with the information that there is a real need for change, to help; to do something, to give a damn.
There are several methods for intervening on behalf of homeless youth that have proved to be effective for other organizations. They are:
o Encourage federal, state and local agencies to ensure that LGBTQ youth are placed in safe foster homes.
o Designate funds to conduct studies that provide data about populations impacted by youth homelessness.
Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) works with YouthCare, Lambert House and more recently, Roots Young Adults Shelter. Through our DON'T HATE, DONATE program, we've collected hundreds of pounds of nonperishable food items; winter clothing, toiletry products and more, to donate directly to the teens or families in need.
What began as a response to the call for people to throw away or boycott Barilla pasta, turned into a full-fledged Social Outreach Seattle program. SOSea Vice President Sarah Toce thought it was a terrible idea to allow a pasta companies hate make someone throw away perfectly edible food when there are so many LGBTQ homeless youth and families on the street. So, she announced SOSea would gladly take Barilla products and donate them to homeless shelters in Seattle back in September.
The response SOSea received was heartwarming as people came forward and began to donate other items like canned goods, Ramen noodles, etc. Soon we designated Monday afternoons from 4-7 p.m. as an official drop off time. But soon even that was not enough.
We have officially partnered with WAI, or Washington Initiative, to produce actions such as directly going to the homeless encampments and handing out water, first aid kits, food - you name it!
Social Outreach Seattle is still accepting toiletries (tooth brushes, cotton swabs, deodorant, etc.), new and used cold weather clothing (jackets, gloves, winter hats), and nonperishable food items (canned soup, beef jerky, pasta). Place the items into a bag or plastic bin and bring it to the Social Outreach Seattle office at 1415 10th Ave Suite #1. To set up a drop off time/date call (206) 769-0238 or email email@example.com and write DON'T HATE, DONATE in the subject line and we will help coordinate with you the best possible date/time for all parties involved.
We are collecting items until December 23; then we will sort them and give them to families in need, LGBTQ homeless youth and Seattle area shelters.
There is one last thing you could do; these actions obviously cost SOSea more than just our time and talent. As a young social justice organization without the benefit of a giant mailing list and cultivated donors, we pinch pennies around here. But we are also quite creative. So, we decided that if people were going to donate to us, they'd better at least be entertained. So we recorded and released a Christmas music CD, Holiday Cheer Vol 1.000
You can download a copy of the CD at https://socialoutreachseattle.bandcamp.com/album/holiday-cheer-volume-1. For more information about Social Outreach Seattle, please visit us at www.socialoutreachseattle.com.
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