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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 19, 2007

Center begins outreach to homeless young people

Cleveland--After a year of needs assessment and research, the Cleveland LGBT Center has begun an outreach to homeless youth.

The Metro Youth Outreach Program, funded in large part by Cuyahoga County, launched on January 18. The center will work with 25 other organizations to help people aged 14 to 24 who are homeless.

A van will head out every Thursday, making stops downtown and in the Ohio City neighborhood to offer help and services to homeless youth. Testing for HIV and other STDs will be provided, as well as other health care workers and a case manager.

Center staff will be increased to support the program, said Mika Major, the center�s director of programs.

�The new positions will be for a case manager and a program assistant,� she said. �But also, our youth support coordinator and youth activities coordinator will be devoting the bulk, if not all, their time to this effort and it also covers the position for program coordinator and medical director.�

The center will not have to foot the bill for new staff members on its own. The majority of the support for the program comes from the Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services administration.

The center is working with the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland, the Free Clinic, Care Alliance, Planned Parenthood, Westhaven Youth Shelter, the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Municipal School District, among other organizations, to provide services to homeless youth.

It might also be the center�s largest outreach to heterosexuals in its history. While Major estimates that 25 to 50 percent of the homeless youth will identify as LGBT, and others may engage in same-sex activity in exchange for shelter or food, no youth will be turned away because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Research is underway to determine the best way to advertise the program.

�We are launching a social marketing campaign and we are looking at what will yield the greatest results,� Major said. �We do have a budget for it, but we want to be good stewards with the money, so the biggest gain for the least expense will be important.�

She anticipates as many as 500 young people being served by the program in its first year.

�We estimated we�d serve 250 youth this year. However, I think it�s safe to say twice that number will be served,� she noted. �Since this type of coordination and effort has not ever been attempted, we are working with a lot of unknowns.�

�But with the economy as it is, the ranking of the city and its known economic barriers, I think discovery is going to be huge regarding homeless youth and their circumstances,� she concluded.

Major also offered assurances that, if the need is even greater than she is anticipating, attempts are already underway to secure additional funding.

�We have submitted a couple of other grants and are waiting for decisions to be made in anticipation of demand,� she said. �But as we have said from the outset, this is a whole county problem. One reason this issue has not been addressed previously is that current services and agencies have not been asked to.�

�Gathered data, both empirical and anecdotal, will be available and will be submitted to all parties,� she added. �Our objective is to influence and make recommendations to improve service delivery, redirect services where most needed and instigate a county-wide response to the causes and solutions to homelessness for youth.�

�For example,� she continued, �there is the premise that LGBT youth are not safe in youth shelters. In other cities that has been proven. But in Cleveland, the issue is not now safety but availability. We were able to secure two beds for Metro Youth Outreach referrals through Westhaven Youth Shelter. Theirs is the only shelter in Cleveland and they have ten beds.�

�They have a great staff and we have delivered training in LGBT cultural competency. They are committed to this project and have been involved all along,� she said. �But there needs to be work done now, to anticipate growth. Ideally, we should not have to have a large shelter for youth, but when we begin to pull back the curtain on this issue, I fear we will reveal a den of horribles.�

A major problem in dealing with homeless youth is that they may not seem homeless. They are less likely to be the ones wrapped in a ratty blanket on a sidewalk grate, and more likely to be �couch-surfing.�

�Homeless youth do not �look� homeless,� Major concurred. �They hang out in groups or �families� and negotiate shelter night to night. If you were to ask if they were homeless they�d say, �No, I�ve got a place to stay.� �

�But the key questions are, how stable is it? How do you contribute to the household? How many places have you lived in the past year? What causes you to not live with family?� she stressed.

Cleveland LGBT Center executive director Sue Doerfer was pleased that her organization was at the heart of the new program.

�In response to feedback from the community, the center has been focusing much of our efforts on advocacy for the past few years,� she noted. �As LGBT people, we are not only concerned about issues that directly affect our own community, but the greater Cleveland community as well.�

�I am extremely proud that the center will be offering services and advocating for all homeless youth as we deepen our advocacy efforts,� Doerfer concluded.




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