Bright Idea: Miami Collaboration Assists LGBTQ Homeless Youth

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Photograph of young people hanging out on the steps of a drop-in center.

You’ve probably heard the statistics: Up to 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, 11 organizations, including state Rep. David Richardson, have banded together to do something about that. The county’s LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Initiative will provide housing, case management and behavioral health services to 30 LGBTQ youth a year.

Clear Need

Advocates for Miami-Dade’s LGBTQ youth say the need is clear. One-third of LGBTQ in the county have been kicked out, according to a 2007 study by Miami’s Alliance for GLBTQ Youth, which provides prevention, early intervention and social services to LGBTQ youth and families.

Other data collected by the alliance shows that 1 in 5 young people who receive services there have experienced homelessness, are not feeling safe at home, or need a safe place to live, says Director Carla Silva.

And the county just hasn’t had all the services those youth need, she says. No shelter in South Florida specifically targets LGBTQ youth, and existing homeless shelters often prove unsafe for them.

“This lack of safe shelter forces many youth to engage in a multitude of dangerous activities to protect themselves and to cope with the tragedy of being homeless today because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Silva says.

“Many of our young people turn to means such as sex work in order to survive and to keep themselves off the streets,” says Victor Diaz-Herman, executive director of Pridelines Youth Services. Pridelines offers LGBTQ youth meals, clothing and assistance in finding housing. “Often times, Pridelines has had to rely on a network of volunteers to temporarily house our homeless young adults or we’ve rented hotel rooms until more permanent solutions were available.”

An Advocate for Youth

As part of the initiative, a new homeless youth liaison now operates out of the Prideline’s drop-in center. That liaison helps LGBTQ homeless youth find safe and affirming programs, and provides sensitivity and inclusivity training for service providers, says Diaz-Herman.

The initiative’s members are also building relationships with other local providers and increasing awareness of the county’s LGBTQ homeless youth population.

“I hope that our initiative creates opportunities to shift the system of care and safeguard all youth to ensure healthy, thriving LGBTQ communities,” said Silva.

Silva also hopes the partnership approach will help end LGBTQ youth homelessness and broaden access to and use of LGBTQ competent services for 16- to 24 year-old LGBTQ youth.

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