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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 20, 2006

Center will reach out to homeless youth this summer

Cleveland--A study of homeless youth this summer will provide an opportunity to see how homelessness affects the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The Cleveland LGBT Center will work with the Cuyahoga County Department of Child and Family Services, the Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disorders, the Free Clinic, Planned Parenthood, Care Alliance, the Cleveland Police Department and other organizations to engage in outreach, provide health referrals and take surveys to collect data.

The project received an �enthusiastic letter of support� from Barbara Byrd Bennett, superintendent of Cleveland Public Schools. However, her exit from that post next month means that it is uncertain what support the project might get from the school district, according to Mika Major, youth program coordinator for the Cleveland LGBT Center.

One of the problems facing the study will be the definition of homelessness. Some young people who go from apartment to apartment, sleeping on couches, do not consider themselves homeless, although some of the organizations would.

However, said Major, �the most challenging aspect is not getting in contact with the youth. I think we will be able to reach them.�

�The biggest challenge is building a relationship with the kids, getting them to trust us,� she said, noting that many have a distrust of adults. Often, homeless gay and lesbian youth have been ejected from their families because of their sexual orientation.

�My guess is there�s going to be a bit of reticence,� she asserted.

According to Major, another challenge will be getting enough young people to take part in the surveys to establish a large pool of data.

�We hope that the numbers we gather here will not only be able to help us, but help other cities like us,� she said. �We�ve got to be able to get a portrait of homeless youth.�

Major pointed to the involvement of MetroHealth�s Dr. Henry Ng, who she referred to as a valuable resource to the community. Ng, who will be holding a workshop at the Cleveland LGBT Center on January 21 to assess the needs of the transgender community for services at MetroHealth, will be assisting the project this summer.

�He�s just one of those good guys who�s doing what he�s supposed to do, doing what he can,� she said of Ng.

�What services do you need or want?� Major asked. The project will tailor programs to all youth, not just LGBT, but the center�s presence makes sure LGBT youth are taken care of �respectfully and adequately.�

�In this instance, with this community-wide problem, the LGBT community is leading and we�re getting tremendous support from everyone involved,� she said.

As for the need for a study of this nature, Major stated that most studies of homeless youth indicate between 20 percent and 50 percent are LGBT or questioning, and a recent Chicago study she cited put the level at 40 percent.

Cleveland LGBT Center executive director Sue Doerfer believes that, in helping LGBT and other homeless youth, the project will illustrate the connection between �LGBT issues� and �straight issues.�

�This program is also important because it help the broader community understand how homophobia can lead to homelessness,� she said. �Homophobia doesn�t just harm the LGBT community, it contributes to widespread social issues like homelessness and poverty.�

 

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