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View Full Version : NYT: Gay Youths Find Place to Call Home in Specialty Shelters


Wigglytuff
May 17th, 2007, 12:20 PM
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/17/us/17homeless.html
Gay Youths Find Place to Call Home in Specialty Shelters

One girl said she started living on the streets after her mother beat her for dressing like a boy. Another said she ran away from home after her father pulled a gun on her for hanging around with so many “tomboys.” A third said she left home after a family acquaintance raped her because she was a lesbian and he wanted to “straighten her out.” :eek: :sad: :sad: :sad: :sad:


But gathered at Ruth’s House, a 10-bed emergency shelter for gay homeless youths here in east Detroit, they all said that for the first time they felt safe.

Ruth’s House is one of a small number of shelters for gay youths that have opened around the nation in the past four years, reflecting an increasing awareness among child welfare advocates of the disproportionately high number of gay youths in the homeless population and the special problems they face.

Five years ago, such shelters were rare, but now there are more than 25 nationwide.

Many experts estimate that while gay men and lesbians make up 3 percent to 5 percent of the general population, more than 20 percent of homeless youths under age 21 in many urban areas are gay, according to recent surveys of street youths and shelter workers published in peer-reviewed academic journals, and a study released in January by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Once on the streets, advocates and researchers said, gay youths may be avoiding group homes, shelters and the foster care system because they are afraid they will face violence and harassment.

Some gay youths have said they were beaten in full view of shelter staff members who did nothing to help. Others said they were forced to wear distinctly colored jumpsuits so they could be identified easily in the shelter population.

“What that means is that these youth are an extremely vulnerable population,” said Jamie Van Leeuwen, a doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado.

In an eight-city study published in The Child Welfare Journal last year, Mr. Van Leeuwen and others found that gay homeless youths were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide while living on the streets than heterosexual homeless youths. The data drew from surveys conducted in 2004 of homeless youths in Austin, Tex.; Boulder, Colo.; Chicago; Colorado Springs; Denver; Minneapolis; Salt Lake City; and St. Louis.

Circumstances are often difficult to verify, but some social workers said many gay teenagers report running away after experiencing violence at home.

Here in Detroit, Shan’nell Jordan, 18, said she ran away from home when she was 12, after a relative reacted to a rumor that she was gay by encouraging a friend to rape her. :mad: :fiery: :fiery: :help: After living on the streets off and on for several years, she said, she moved into a house with two other lesbians this year and does odd jobs while looking for full-time work.

“I tried dressing like a girl for a while, but I couldn’t do it,” Ms. Jordan said.

Bryan N. Cochran, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Montana in Missoula, said there were no national studies on how often violence occurred between youths and their parents over sexuality. But Professor Cochran said his research, which was based on interviews with homeless service providers and runaway youths, showed that gay homeless youths in Seattle “were almost twice as likely to have ended up on the streets due to physical abuse in the home than were their straight peers.”

Gay advocacy groups have urged Congress to provide more money for services for gay and lesbian homeless youths. Federal financing for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which is up for reauthorization next year, dropped, to $103.9 million in fiscal year 2006 from $105.4 million in 2003.

But homeless and youth advocacy groups fear that by pressing for money specifically for gay youths, lobbying will become splintered, and the effort could invite a backlash from antigay factions that would result in less money for homeless youth programs generally. There are 1.6 million homeless youths nationally, a 2002 federal estimate said.

“The center is the only place where I feel safe being me,” said Sarah Strickland, 18, referring to Ruth’s House. “Out there, I knew I wasn’t safe. I knew I might be killed by someone realizing that I’m a girl looking like a boy.”

Grace A. McClelland, who runs Ruth’s House, said it had a three-month waiting list for its 10-bed shelter, which opened in August. The shelter is named after Ruth Ellis, an African-American lesbian who in the 1930s opened her house in the same neighborhood to gay African-American teenagers. With a staff of seven, it provides school placement, psychological and family counseling and job training. The shelter is financed with private and federal money.

The capacity of gay youth shelters is limited, said Gerald P. Mallon, a professor at the Hunter College School of Social Work, who has helped open several shelters. In San Francisco, there are about 15 beds to serve a homeless gay youth population that local advocates estimate is in the thousands, Professor Mallon said. In New York City, there are no more than 50 beds for gay homeless youths, he added.

In Cleveland, Mika Major is the director of the Metro Youth Outreach Drop-In Center, one of about 150 centers nationally where homeless gay youths can receive counseling and other services. “The hardest part of the job is telling kids who show up with bruises or horrific stories that we don’t have a safe place to send them,” Ms. Major said.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said gay youths’ fears about shelters were valid.

“Shelter staff often have the least training and the least oversight, compared to schools or anywhere else” serving gay youths, Mr. Foreman said.

Dilo Cintron, 25, who said he lived on the streets for five years in New York starting in 2000, described being gay in a homeless shelter, saying, “You’re lucky if all they do is sneer in these places.”

Mr. Cintron said he chose the streets after being beaten nearly unconscious in a shelter by four men. Instead of intervening in the attack, he said, staff members closed the doors.

Now living in Queens, Mr. Cintron is taking job-training classes and is a volunteer at Sylvia’s Place, a shelter for homeless gay youths in Manhattan.

At a shelter in Saline, Mich., near Ann Arbor, staff members removed the door to a gay youth’s bedroom, to prevent homosexual behavior. The second bed in the room was left empty, and other residents were warned that if they misbehaved they would have to share the room with the “gay kids,” said Krista Girty, a former social worker at the shelter.

At a youth group home in Bedford, Mich., gay teenagers were identified by orange jumpsuits. “It was basically their way to shame people into being antigay,” said Andy Wilt, 20, who stayed at the shelter for six months in 2000.

In Ann Arbor, Mary Jo Callan runs the Ozone House, a shelter that serves mostly homeless heterosexual youths but aims to be hospitable to all. Ms. Callan said suburban and rural communities often lacked the money and the political will to open centers that focus on gay youths.

“I think we have to improve the facilities that we have now,” Ms. Callan said. “Otherwise, I think the kids simply won’t come in from the cold and get the help they need.”