“Empathy is not enough. We need a collective strategy to approach and conquer homelessness among gay youth.”
Heard the above before? Me too. A collective strategy is meeting-speak for ‘let’s use resources to think about the problem and we’ll get back to you’. Or better, from the public’s perspective it makes the problem someone else’s — some mystical entity which is going to finally solve the evils of drug dependency, emotional and physical abuse, mental illness, and homophobia all in one fell swoop.
You don’t need a collective strategy to take a kid off the street, you need a collective strategy to combat the reasons s/he’s there in the first place, but homeless organizations by their nature are not set up, or designed, to fight the root causes of homelessness, particularly LGBT youth homelessness. They are designed to work with the results of those causes, and the results of youth homelessness are the same no matter what country you live in.
Pick a city, any city on the planet. The video below, taken by Lost-n-Found (an Atlanta based nonprofit working with homeless LGBT youth) will show you how homeless youth are living, if they are actually lucky enough to find an abandoned building. This same organization finds homeless kids sleeping under bridges, behind dumpsters, in tents, on street grates, or any other place the kids can squeeze their bodies.
So what is a homeless youth program looking at when a kid walks in the door? Usually the first things are food, clothing, toiletries, and maybe a shower. But what the staff is really working against is:
- A feeling of helplessness
- A strong belief that everyone has given up on you
A collective strategy isn’t going to help this kid. We need people who care enough to make a small difference, and of course, we need resources. OOPs, did I say the wrong word? Did your wallet just cinch shut? Resources mean more than money. Resources are socks and underwear, a pillow, a tent, a few hours of time, a few cans of food, a couch for the night, maybe a spare bedroom for a host home program. Sometimes the biggest resource people working with homeless LGBT youth lack is hope. Ironic, isn’t it?
The kids just keep coming, the hate-filled parents keep tossing them into the street, and the resources keep dwindling away because people have lost the understanding that it only takes one person to make a difference in the life of one homeless queer kid. Just one.
Are you that person?
Make a difference, get involved.
Award winning writer BRANDON SHIRE is a distinct voice in contemporary gay fiction. Ten percent of the proceeds from the sale of any of Brandon’s books are donated to LGBT Youth charities combating homelessness.