What do the homeless youth get through your program?
What they gain through us are access to our resources in the sense of bus passes, food, hygiene products, gift cards to local places like Target, Safeway or Payless ShoeSource, phone cards to make phone calls. We have some immediate supplies for folks, and then a big component of what we provide is referrals to other agencies in town.
Why are these people out on the street in the first place?
Well, last summer, the Tucson Planning Council for the Homeless, which I'm a member of on the youth committee, collected surveys--pretty extensive surveys--from about 458 youth who were involved in each of the different agencies. About 54 percent of the youth reported ending up being homeless because of family problems. Fifty-four percent in general said that conflicts or problems with the family were the most common reason that they left.
What were some other reasons?
Financial problems, abuse and neglect, pregnancy, and youth drug and alcohol problems were all some of those reasons.
What kinds of things are we talking about when we say GLBT youth are having problems in their homes? Can you give me some examples?
Well, without getting specific, more than once, I've heard that after they've come out, their environment just completely changes. So their brothers and sisters sometimes are calling them names; sometimes their door to their bedroom may be removed, they may not be allowed to associate with some of the friends that they had. I've known youth who have been coming here for a while, and then after they turned 18, and some parents may feel like they're legally ...
... absolved of responsibility?
Yeah, absolved of responsibility--then they can ask their child to leave.
So just GLBT youth can use services here?
All youth can use services here. In our mission statement here for Eon Youth Lounge, we say we provide services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer-questioning and straight-allied youth. So if they don't identify as GLBT, then they certainly need to be an ally to be in this space. We definitely have straight allies at this center.
Have you ever had someone who's not a straight ally try to access services?
Well, not so much. They sort of get weeded out. We have an orientation process now they go through, and they see the rules, and they sign off saying that they're going to agree to follow these guidelines that we have here. So (if) folks say things that are blatantly homophobic, then they're given a warning. If that repeats, then they're asked to leave for the day.
I read some statistics that said that 20 to 40 percent of homeless kids in larger cities are GLBT. Is that an accurate percentage for Tucson?
Well, of the 458 youth that we surveyed, 17 percent identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning. So that's close to 20. One percent identified as transgender.
Are there special challenges for transgender youth?
Certainly. Some of the youth who we have who are coming into this space (and) who are questioning their gender identity or identify as transgender have additional challenges at school, because there are often dress codes and additional barriers to the way they present themselves in school. I think getting employment can be difficult as well, for some of them who can't pass as well as they'd like to.
What are GLBT youth at greater risk for than their straight peers on the street?
I would say definitely the risk of violence is prevalent. ... I definitely hear from youth in this space that, whether at school or on the streets or even in their homes or where they're presently staying, there is harassment and ... bullying going on.
How long do these services last? Can people keep coming back?
Yeah. They can keep coming back. Each time they access food or hygiene products, they write down a goal on their sheet, in their monthly folder--as long as they're continuing to work on their goals.