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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 25, 2007

Center and its homeless youth program get cash

Cleveland--The Cleveland LGBT Center will close the month of May with $10,000 more in their coffers than just one month earlier.

First, the center was notified on May 1 that it had been given a Neighborhood Connections Program grant by the Cleveland Foundation for $5,000.

Then, by bringing out 110 people to cheer on runners in the Cleveland Marathon on May 22, the center earned another $5,000.

The funds from the marathon were part of an innovative approach to bringing out larger crowds for the event: Give non-profit groups a chance to earn money by bringing out their supporters to rally the runners.

The marathon money will be going into the general operating fund. This “enables the center to do things like pay the rent and utilities, send out newsletters, provide space for community groups,” said executive director Sue Doerfer.

The grant from the Neighborhood Connections Program will be used to increase security for the consumers and staff of the Metro Youth Outreach Program, which has served 35 young people in the four months of its existence.

Every Thursday, a van goes out to the Ohio City neighborhood and downtown, offering services to homeless youth, including HIV and STD testing, other health care services and case management.

The program began in January after a year of needs assessment and other research. Two weeks later, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a report estimating that as much as 40 percent of homeless youth nationally identify as LGBT.

Homeless youth who are queer often face difficulties in getting social services, and many find homophobia at youth shelters. That is not so much the problem in Cleveland as is the availability of space in youth-oriented shelters.

Westhaven Youth Shelter is the only one in the area, and they have two beds reserved for Metro Youth Outreach clients.

A Canadian study found homeless LGBT youth three times as likely to engage in “survival sex” in exchange for food, shelter, clothing, money or drugs, than their heterosexual counterparts.

While the $5,000 grant will be a boon to the Metro Youth Outreach program, the center has never gone it alone when reaching out to homeless youth. Also involved in the program are the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, the Free Clinic, Care Alliance, Planned Parenthood, Westhaven Youth Shelter, the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Municipal School District, among other organizations.

Most of the funding for the program is from the Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services administration.

Mika Major, the center’s director of programs, is concerned that the 35 young people who have accessed the program are just the tip of the iceberg.

“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,” she noted in January. “Homeless youth do not ‘look’ homeless. 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.’ ”

Homeless youth often “couch-surf,” going from one place to another that will provide them with a place to stay for a night or two.

“But they 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.



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