With thousands of LGBT homeless youth, new programs emerge in Chicago

Vida/SIDA. Photo: Brynn Cassie West.

The LGBTQ Host Home Program costs around $8,666 per year per youth. Vida/SIDA does not have any grants currently and relies on community donations and in-kind contributions, such as a core of volunteer-based overnight resident advisors.

This low cost may seem improbable to many who are looking to help and those on the ground like Perez have had their perceptions of what can be altered.

“Before I started this job [at Vida/SIDA] I thought of homelessness as this giant thing that only large institutions could possibly imagine addressing,” he said. “Now I am more thinking about what are the ways which we can have community grown alternatives and we can have a lot of them.”

Just over a month after opening, Vida/SIDA is in the process of filling the eight beds they have available at El Rescate and hopes to fill most of the beds by the end of April. However, with 45 applicants, it is a harder task than it may seem.

Vida/SIDA may be an example of a small organization doing what it can to address this problem, but for Perez it may be hard at times to view the broad picture when confronted with human hardship every day, he said.

“Every day I see kids that I can’t do anything for and it tears my heart apart,” Perez said. “Every day I meet someone who says I’m being abused, or I’m doing sex work, I’ve stolen things — that are in these really desperate situations, trying to survive, don’t have the tools and don’t have adults in their lives who can support them in accessing the tools.”

Living room at El Rescate. Photo: Brynn Cassie West.

El Rescate looks to serve the people who are in the most dangerous or damaging situations because “there are people out there who have a lot of really intense situations they are dealing with,” said Perez.

The notion of stability as the key factor in success for homeless youth and is a central talking point for organizations when strategizing.

Like Strzelczyk, Kirkendall has benefited from a sense of stability and is now attending college in Joliet for Veterinary Technology.

“[The Host Home Program] helped my mental state,” Kirkendall said. “I was able to actually get some sleep and save up money just by having a place to go home to each night. That made a big difference.”

Sarah Leicher is on the Advisory Council for the Host Home program, which collectively provides input for the program. While homeless youth are definitely resourceful, they need to get out of the “survival mode” they often operate in, she explained.

In the end, these programs hope to provide a dynamic set of answers to the growing number of LGBT homeless youth.

Adrian Nambo, the resident advisor at the Vida/SIDA program, remarked that there is no one set of solutions that will solve this problem and that the community needs a variety of services and programs all over the city.

LGBT youth in particular have specific and often multifaceted needs, according to Perez, who described the UCAN program as inspirational. Having many options available, which appeal to various individuals, is an important step to get youth into a program that fits.

Kirkendall explained that she was couch surfing for a long time and had heard too many horror stories about large shelter programs. So while the UCAN program was still a “leap of faith” for her, it was something that was appealing.

In the case of the LGBTQ Host Home Program, the fit can be so well as to extend far beyond the two years.

Wade recounted a story of a youth who was placed in a collective house and after two years was able to start paying rent and remained in the house even after the original host moved out.