Homeless LGBT Youth – A Look at Three Centers Lending a Helping Hand

September 10, 2014 in inQueery

lgbtarticlebannerOne of the most frightening experiences a youth can face is homelessness. Whether they leave by choice or, for many LGBT kids, their families’ negative reactions to their sexual identity force them out, homelessness is something far too many young people will face in their lifetimes. Many of these youths have nowhere left to go and wind up living on the streets – a dangerous situation. Fortunately, there are resources these youths can turn to – the YEAH! program in Berkeley, the Castro Youth Housing Initiative in San Francisco, and the Billy DeFrank Center in San Jose, to name just three.

The YEAH! program’s name stands for Youth Engagement, Advocacy, and Housing. According to YEAH!’s website, the homeless population in Berkeley is currently around 1,200 of the approximately 115,000 people who reside in the city, and of those 1,200, almost 20% are youth. The program’s mission is to support these young adults (ages 18-25) by providing basic necessities, offering counseling, and providing links to housing, employment, and education. Their shelter is open every night from November to May with a supplemental Clinical Day Program that handles the counseling.

While they’re not specifically an LGBT organization, the program’s associate director Bob Offer-Westort estimated that, in the past, about 40% of the youth the YEAH! program serviced identified as LGBT. There are approximately twenty-five youths at a time at the shelter, with turnover resulting in about one hundred young people helped in a year. That number will go up this year, as the program’s winter shelter will be open for an extra month. Offer-Westort hopes that eventually the program will have enough funding to remain open for all twelve months of the year.

Also in the North Bay, the Castro Youth Housing Initiative, which opened in 2004, is a community-started program of Larkin Street Youth Services. Like the YEAH! program, they provide housing, life skills training, and links to mental health services, as well as access to Larkin Street’s educational resources and employment training. Youths utilizing the Castro program for housing have access to twenty-five scattered-site transitional housing apartments and five private bedroom apartments.

The focus of the Castro Youth Housing Initiative is on housing LGBT young adults. They take in youths from other shelters or directly from the streets, and three out of four of those youths will move on to independence when they leave the program. The admirable goal of the program is to keep young adults off the streets and engaged in positive activities.

Lastly, the Billy DeFrank Center in San Jose, while not a shelter itself, has been immensely beneficial to the LGBT population. Founded in 1981, the Billy DeFrank Center has long been a resource hub and safe place for those falling outside heteronormative society. DeFrank helps over 1,000 visitors each month and even more via telephone. Approximately 10-20% of the in-person visits and telephone inquiries are actively looking for housing. In addition to referrals, the DeFrank Center has a posting space outside their library where community members can display ads for rooms for rent, shared housing, etc.

The DeFrank Center also hosts a wide variety of events designed to foster a sense of community and provide fun places to gather. From BINGO every Wednesday (of which every third Wednesday of the month is Drag BINGO) to Zumba every Thursday, there is an almost never-ending supply of interesting things to explore.

In addition to the fun stuff, the DeFrank Center provides a plethora of support groups, including things like AA meetings, Bisexuals and Friends, South Bay Trans Women Support, and Crystal Meth Anonymous. They even provide walk-in HIV testing three times a week, Wednesday through Friday.

The DeFrank Center also partners with a separate organization called the LGBTQ Youth Space in downtown San Jose, which used to be a part of the Center before receiving enough funding to strike out on their own. They are a community drop-in center and mental health program that provides counseling, support groups, and connections. They also provide a safe place to hang out and participate in fun activities like art workshops, movie nights, open mic nights, and field trips.

Hopefully one day the LGBT youth of the Bay will never have a need for these centers and their services, but until that day, these programs, and many more, will be there to help them, providing a place they can find acceptance and the resources to live happy and full lives.

Aurora Smith is a Guest Contributor at InQueery.