Elevating Homeless Youth Crisis

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“This is a crisis; this is totally unacceptable,” testified Simon Costello, director of Children, Youth and Family Services at the LA LGBT Center during a hearing called by the State Assembly and Senate Human Services committees.

Costello told the panel that included Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymember Blanca E. Rubio, that each week “between 15 and 20 new young people experiencing homelessness walk through our doors–at just one agency,” and last year the center provided services for more than 1,200 young people experiencing homelessness. Of those, 880 were first-time clients.

“The situation has not gotten enough attention,” Sen. Wiener said. “We want to elevate it in the consciousness of the public and of the legislature and in my view we need more resources from the state for youth homelessness.”

Simon Costello

Simon Costello says the homeless youth situation a “crisis.”

Said Assemblymember Rubio: “I want to have a discussion that results in some action even if it’s a small step. I’m tired of the discussions.”

A transgender youth client of the Center, Alex’ix, testified that she had spent her first night in Los Angeles in an alley after a job she was promised fell through and her belongings were stolen. Being LGBT compounded her problems.

Alex’ix spent several years in 26 different homes in the foster care system, until she turned 18.

“They just basically tossed me to the side,” said the now 24-year-old, as lawmakers sat in rapt attention. “There was no one there that really tried to understand my pain.”

That changed when Alex’ix found her way to the Los Angeles LGBT Center where “I felt safe and appreciated. It was a change in life for me.”

An estimated 40% of youth experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County are LGBT. The number of visits to the Center’s youth center has increased by double digits in the past 12 months.

The center offers three meals a day, hot showers, and access to a clothing closet. Other services include temporary housing or housing referrals, laundry services, education and employment programs, HIV testing and counseling, addiction recovery services, counseling and support groups.

Numbers Don’t Lie

A January 2017 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that on any one night there are nearly 6,000 young people in Los Angeles County staying at emergency shelters.  More than 90% were between 18 and 24, 80% were people of color.

The Hollywood Youth Partnership (HYP) survey of homeless youth in Hollywood found that 40% are LGBTQ.  Less than 50% of all the youth had a high school diploma or GED and 49% met criteria for clinical depression.

What the Needs Are

“We need to take an approach that encompasses their health, their mental health, education, and life-skills needs,” Costello said. “We need to meet each young person where they are, engage them in a conversation of what they want in their lives and provide them with the resources.”

Assemblymember Rubio, frustrated that people such as Alex’ix don’t have access to state or local programs with the resources to help, asked: “How is it that Alex’ix couldn’t access any of these programs? I hear solutions or potential solutions with money available for all these programs but there’s an obvious disconnect if Alex’ix can’t access any of those programs. … How can we connect all of this so that we can move forward in solving these issues?”

More on the Center’s programs for homeless youth.

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