By Yasmin Merchant
A homeless shelter for LGBT young adults will be opening in the Bronx.
The shelter, run by the organization Project Renewal, will be the first LGBT shelter in the city to house residents over the age of 24. It will open in the Bathgate area on Dec. 19. Councilmember Ritchie Torres played a key role in the initiative. Torres, who represents District 15 of the Bronx, is the first openly gay candidate to be elected to legislative office in the borough.
Various organizations, such as the Williams Institute and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), say a combination of factors contribute to LGBT youth’s marginalization. According to the Williams Institute, 40 percent of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT. Most in their situation were kicked out by their families. LGBT youth can also face harassment in school and are two times less likely to finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average, according to the GLSEN. Lack of higher education makes it more difficult to find jobs that pay enough to afford housing.
The past decade has seen much progress for the LGBT community, such as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the federal legalization of same-sex marriage. But the LGBT community still faces discrimination. One of the biggest problems is the large number of homeless LGBT youth and young adults. The city hopes to address this issue through the creation of the shelter.
Because of their sexual orientation or gender, LGBT youth face discrimination when seeking alternative housing and in federally funded institutions. Even if this demographic is able to find housing, they are often not safe. The National Coalition for the Homeless says that “once homeless, these youth experience greater physical and sexual exploitation than their heterosexual counterparts.” Transgender youth in particular are in danger of physical harassment and are more likely to be turned away from shelters.
“Single adult shelters are too dangerous for LGBT youth,” Torres said in a statement. “If you’re a transgender young adult who’s been evicted from your home by your own parents, going into a single adult shelter could do more harm than good.”
The space will have 80 beds. Services will include group counseling, medical services for transgender residents, HIV care, an on-site psychiatrist and assistance in applying for health benefits and changing gender identity documentation.
Torres believes that this shelter could make a critical difference in these young people’s lives. “It can be the refuge that stands between vulnerable LGBT youth and suicide,” he said.