First Homeless GLBTQI Youth Summit Raises Important Issues
In mid-August, Montrose Counseling Center convened the first meeting of those interested in helping gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex teens get off the streets. Several organizations have been working independently toward this goal, and MCC Executive Director Ann J. Robison, PhD, decided it was time to bring everyone together.
“We are extremely pleased with the interest in and turnout for the summit, which was called to promote an efficient and coordinated approach to providing services to our youth,” says Robison, who adds that, “it is critical that we strengthen communication among the stakeholders, as well as maximize scarce resources for this underserved population.”
“GLBTQI youth first are rejected from their own families, only to find themselves outcasts in the current shelter system for the homeless. If a teen cannot feel safe at home, at school, at church, and has no friends or family, they are at greater risk of becoming addicted to drugs, engaging in survival sex, committing crimes and being the victim of violence,” laments Deb Murphy, MCC Youth Services Specialist.
“When GLBTQI kids are lost to the streets, they are lost to us all as future contributing adults in our society—all those potential teachers, architects, doctors, parents will be lost,” says Chris Kerr, MEd, LPC, MCC Clinical Director. “The life expectancy of GLBTQI youth on the streets is really scary. Every week a kid is on the streets makes it exponentially more difficult to help them to safety and to a normal life.”
Montrose Counseling Center currently provides services to GLBTQI youth through AskAllie.org, Safe Zones, HATCH, and In-School HATCH programs. According to Kerr, “We also see the destructive outcome of so-called ‘throw-away’ teens – sometimes years later when they are adults – as clients in our Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment, LIFE Counseling, HIV Counseling and Case Management programs.” He speculates that reaching GLBTQI street teens and getting them plugged into a network of resources may have a significant positive impact on their lives. “What happens to GLBTQI adolescents during these formative years is critical in terms of how they cope in the future. If the only tools they have are drugs and alcohol, and engaging in criminal behavior and/or survival sex to meet those needs, we have a long way to go in helping them become functioning contributors to society.”
“There is an exciting convergence of interest in our community on the unmet needs of homeless GLBTQI youth in Houston. I hope their time has come. Some groups are beginning to take action, and others are in the planning stages. This is just the beginning. We need a lot more people to get involved,” says Kerr.
The members of the summit determined that the major gap is shelter and long-term housing for youth who are not yet 18. However, there are barriers in setting up a youth shelter. Youth under the age of 18 are not able to stay in the same building as youth who are 18 and older. Foster agencies cannot place youth in GLBT-affirming homes unless the youth is in CPS care. Other gaps include funding, serving undocumented youth, and providing services to non-English speaking youth.