LGBT youth homelessness was the topic of a panel discussion at the Unitarian Church of Evanston Dec. 5.
Alex J. ( AJ ) Segneri, executive director at Foundation for a United Front and Unitarian Church of Evanston Rainbow Alliance member, served as the moderator.
Panelists included Rev. Aidan McCormack ( community and congregational relations coordinator at the Night Ministry ), Pastor Alli Baker ( associate minister at Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ ), Bonsai Bermudez ( artistic director of Youth Empowerment Performance ProjectYEPP ), Ahniyha Johnson ( YEPP member and performer ), Zanariah Phillips ( YEPP performer and social justice activist ), and Tracy Baim ( publisher of Windy City Times ).
Following introductions by Christine Allender, a Unitarian Church of Evanston Rainbow Alliance member, the panelists discussed the work they do to the approximately 30 people in attendance.
Baim noted the Homeless Youth Summit that Windy City Times hosted this past May, the report that was generated and the action steps that are taking place as a result of the summit.
McCormack explained that he coordinates the Night Ministry's volunteer efforts while Baker shared that she works primarily with youth including those who utilize the services of the Broadway Youth Center ( which operates out of her church ) and the Night Ministry. Bermudez noted that they previously worked at the Broadway Youth Center.
Baim said that between 20-40 percent of the youth population who are homeless identify as LGBTQ. Baim noted that in the Chicago area, people of color experience homelessness at a much higher rate.
McCormack said the census that was conducted among Chicago Public School students showed about 22,000 students are homeless and of those numbers about 10-15,000 are between the ages of 14 to 21. Baker said that of those 15,000, about 3,000 identify as LGBT.
The demographic makeup of those who are counted as homeless is a complicated issue because the information gathering tools are limited due to how the information is gathered, Bermudez explained.
Johnson shared that she was homeless once and in her experience the majority of people she encountered in the shelters were LGBT and/or people of color.
As for the factors that cause LGBT youth to become homeless, Bermudez said that it's more than just getting kicked out of the house, it's about pushing systems such as churches, schools, families, neighborhoods, social services and medical facilities to be more conscious of what they are doing and saying regarding LGBT youth.
Baim explained that a lack of consistent positive relationships in young people's lives often results in an even more difficult experience for LGBT youth who are homeless.
Phillips said that it's an issue of people not caring or reaching out as well as a lack of trust in systems among LGBT youth.
When dealing with how to solve systemic problems on the local, state and national level Baim said that public policy changes are necessary, however, individuals, churches and private corporations are vital to solving this problem.
Bermudez explained that resources are important but it's also vital to provide LGBT youth emotional and spiritual stability.
It's not just providing LGBT homeless youth with housing, it's about giving them the necessary support as they transition into housing, noted Baker.
As for what the LGBT community is doing regarding LGBT youth homelessness, Baker mentioned Project Fierce's work to open a home for such youth.
McCormack said he has noticed an increase in interest from the middle and upper middle class LGBT community regarding this issue. He noted the work that Organized Chaos does including providing holiday stockings for LGBT youth in need.
Baim shared that little changed after the paper published its Generation Halsted series two years ago that laid out everything that LGBT youth were asking for, but things are changing now with new organizations and support of existing institutions. More LGBT people need to become involved since 95% of the LGBT community does not give to LGBT causes or groups, said Baim.
Baim said she is working on the 750 Club Apartment Adoption Project, the Chicago Storage Initiative and a laundry project, in addition to other summit followup projects.
McCormack encourage more people to get out of their comfort zone and become more involved while Baker said people should start in their own neighborhood and that LGBT allies need to step up.
Bermudez's next steps are to make sure that YEPP is financially stable so they can add another ensemble of performers to their ranks.
Johnson said she plans to go to college and get a degree in social work and Phillips shared that she will continue building relationships with people and share her story.
A Q&A session followed the panel discussion.
The event was sponsored by the Unitarian Church of Evanston's Rainbow Alliance and Food and Shelter social justice teams.
A benefit concert for YEPP featuring Crys Matthews will take place at the Unitarian Church of Evanston on Jan. 10 at 7:15 p.m. To purchase tickets visit www.crysmatthewsatuce.brownpapertickets.com .