In response to rising numbers of LGBT homeless youth in Chicago, community organizations have developed new, innovative approaches to address the growing issue, particularly with the emergence of grassroots, LGBT-specific programs.
The UCAN LGBTQ Host Home Program and Center on Halsted’s own home-sharing program for LGBT elders, put on a joint open house event Thursday to discuss their respective programs and how they are part of creating a solution.
The LGBTQ Host Home Program facilitates matches between hosts, who must be over the age of 25, with homeless youth under the age of 25. Each must go through a background screening and 16 hours of training. The program does not make the match decisions, but leaves that up to the host and the youth.
“This is about empowering individuals,” said Bonnie Wade, associate director for UCAN’s LGBTQ Host Home Program. The host and the youth determine their own preferences and those who have participated described the relationship like having roommates.
Georgett Kirkendall exchanged letters with her eventual hosts for weeks before getting up the courage to take a leap of faith and meet with them face to face.
“[The letters] just felt so loving,” said Kirkendall, who is still in contact with her host family and may be spending Easter brunch with them.
The program supports the arrangement for up to two years, with monthly check-ins and ongoing training. If a problem arises, the program facilitates conflict resolution discussions to positively alter house courtesy agreements.
This new, holistic approach to youth homelessness is part of a growing trend of innovative and community based solutions. Many of these models come out of a history of organizing and are hoping to radically alter the way the community views homelessness and those affected.
“It’s about sharing resources in the community,” said Wade. “It’s not fancy, it’s practical. We’re based off of a social justice model.”
The urgency of the problem has pushed many involved in homelessness to these direct solutions out of frustration with the current system of large institutions and funding battles.
Liz Przybylski, who has hosted a youth through UCAN’s program, was part of the Lakeview Action Coalition to end homelessness when she became involved with the LGBTQ Host Home Program.
“It’s [the LAC] these long drawn out meetings arguing for funding and even when you get it the solutions never seem like they are enough,” said Przybylski. “[The Host Home] program was a way I can do something concrete right now.”
The LGBTQ Host Home program is one of many emerging services, but no single organization is claiming to have the key to solving the problem. The intention is to change how the community views homelessness and the ways to help.
Recently, Vida/SIDA, a Humboldt Park-based Latino health organization, opened an LGBT independent living program, El Rescate (or “The Rescue”), and views its mission as set apart from other models of addressing homelessness.
“We’re different than social services organizations because we do come out of this tradition of community organizing,” said Andre Perez, Empowerment Project coordinator at Vida/SIDA. “A lot of the mentality of the framework that informs the work that we do is about building leadership within our community.”
Community leadership and independence are core goals of this project and contends that housing is the first step in a longer process to engage with youth and make them successful, according to Perez.
Stephen Strzelczyk, 18, a resident at the El Rescate independent living program, is an example the program’s success.