This program wants to fight LGBTQ youth homelessness — but it needs help

The rate of homelessness among that population is alarming, and they want to put a dent in it.

click to enlarge THE WILL TO HELP: Formerly homeless youth Will Lundergan stars in an ad  promoting the cause. - Screen grab,
Screen grab,
THE WILL TO HELP: Formerly homeless youth Will Lundergan stars in an ad promoting the cause.

You wouldn’t know it from the street, but the one-story building four blocks west of U.S. 19 on St. Petersburg’s 5th Avenue North might be saving a young kid from once-certain doom this minute.

Staff at the emergency youth shelter, Family Resources Safe Place, take in a small number of homeless youth, who can stay for up to 35 days.

It’s a bright facility with rainbow art on the walls, a kitchen and plenty of common areas where the kids, few of them as there are now, can hang out. The building’s east wing once served as dormitory-style housing for troubled young women, until that program moved up to Clearwater. So, unlike the small residential hall on the other side of the grounds, the rooms are basically empty.

“This is dormant,” said Jon Mabry, Jr., the staffer who led a recent tour of the building. “There are a lot of young people who could be here.”

“What’s lacking?” someone asks.

“Funding,” Mabry replies.

With help from local officials — as well as Cyndi Lauper’s national nonprofit True Colors Fund — leadership at Family Resources hopes to change that, while putting a dent in the epidemic of LGBTQ homelessness. A crowded March 21 reception marked the launch of a public campaign to raise funds to expand its residential capacity and offer at-risk youth a place to safely do homework or apply for a job online, charge their phone or take a shower. Stakeholders have in particular been studying the local LGBTQ population for about a year to help determine their wants and needs, and how to best provide them.

“This is the culmination of some work that we’ve finally got to get involved with,” said Lisa Davis, CEO of Family Resources, at the reception.

To call the homelessness rate for LGBTQ youth disproportionate is a gross understatement. While it’s hard to get an exact number, it’s estimated that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other sexual orientations/gender identities constitute 40 percent of the country’s homeless youth population. Yet they make up just five to seven percent of the general youth population.

Outside of the stereotypical fundamentalist parents rejecting their kids when they come out, it’s hard to nail down an explanation.

“It’s because of a lot of different things,” said Christa Price, a program officer with the True Colors Fund. “We’re also seeing a high prevalence of LGBTQ young people in juvenile justice systems and foster care systems... and also just family conflict outside of family rejection.”

True Colors helps organizations in places like St. Petersburg develop holistic strategies to solve homelessness among LGBTQ youth, strat egies that include an array of entities and resources.

“What we’re learning at the national level is that it takes everyone in the community to solve the issue, not just the service providers and not just the typical players,” Price said. “We’re talking about librarians and schools and faith leaders and folks like that.”

Program organizers hope to reach significantly more young people, particularly at-risk LGBTQ youth, and change their lives the way they did that of Will Lundergan, who at 16 was kicked out of his home after coming out.

“Things changed from really bad in my life to absolutely horrible,” he said. “I remember being that little kid locked inside a closet, actually, because my parents didn’t want to actually feed me.”

Safe Place helped him turn his life around, he said.

“I have never, ever had this many friends or this close of a family... than I have today because of Family Resources,” Lundergan, who now stars in a 30-second video spot raising awareness of the program’s funding needs, said.

While earlier this month marked the official launch of an effort to expand the 5th Avenue North Family Resources facility, in terms of fundraising, there’s still a ways to go — they need more than half a million dollars to pay for things like surveys and architectural fees, demolition, new construction and furniture.

St. Petersburg philanthropist Woody Richey recently gave a substantial amount of money to help the project along (though he didn’t wish to reveal the sum).

“I’m trying to clean out my estate and get it ready for the day when I pass away, and in doing so, had identified in wanting to help LGBT youth and help homeless,” he said. “You look for shortfalls, places where funding has been removed. And you work to fill in that funding where you can.”

Members of the public can contribute to the program via

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