STILL KICKIN HERO: June 2017
EVERY MONTH, OUR PROCEEDS SUPPORT A NEW PERSON OR ORGANIZATION WHO DEFINES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE STILL KICKIN.
THIS MONTH, WE’RE SUPPORTING LGBTQ YOUTH.
June is Pride Month. But you probably already knew that. Because you probably already have plans to attend your community’s parade or march on your state’s capitol for LGBTQ rights or check out any other number of Pride-related events.
And don’t get us wrong, those are all AWESOME things. (Also, like, we’ll see you there?) But when celebrating Pride Month, one group often left out of the conversation is youth who are experiencing homelessness, 40 percent of whom identify as LGBTQ.
This is where Twin Cities nonprofit Avenues For Homeless Youth comes in. Their GLBT Host Home Program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The organization utilizes its community ties to identify homeless youth ages 16-24 in need of care and support. Avenues then connects those young people with folks who are willing and able to provide a safe place for them to call home. Some youth stay in the host home program for several years; the average stay is one year.
Oh, and the program is completely volunteer-based. Which means yes, we have angels living amongst us who open their homes to total strangers a year (or more) at a time.
Alexis Kantor is one of those angels (though she’s quick to argue that point and say her life has been changed for the better because of Avenues, not the other way around). Alexis and her wife felt compelled to become a host home after learning how prevalent youth homelessness has become in the LGBTQ community.
“It really got under our skin,” Alexis says. “It was that thing that every day we ended up coming back to and talking about … As soon as you hear how many homeless kids there are in Minneapolis alone, you think, If I know this, I can’t just sit around and not do anything.”
In the 20 years the GLBT Host Home Program has been operating in the Twin Cities, Avenues estimates it has supported thousands of homeless LGBTQ-identified youth. But because the needs of homeless youth vary greatly, Avenues has recently launched a new program, called ConneQT, which matches queer-identified youth in urgent and immediate need of help with host homes for shorter periods of time.
“A lot of our young people are disconnected from community of any kind,” says Ryan Berg, program manager for Avenues’ ConneQT Host Home Program. “So just getting them set up with caring, consistent adults -- it sounds like a no brainer, but often times youth who have been in out-of-home placements or have been navigating the [foster care] system feel very disconnected. So we help create that base stability to help them move forward and meet their own personal goals.”
Of course, being a host home family comes with its challenges. These are young people who have experienced hardships and stressors the likes of which most of us can’t fathom. But the awesome moments outweigh the tough ones, Alexis says. Like the time one of her teens, who is trans, got to attend their first prom.
“Their school worked with an organization that got them prom dresses,” Alexis says. “But they didn’t fit. So my whole team at work rallied, and we created this lace-up on the back of the dress. People donated jewelry. Somebody did their makeup. And that was such a beautiful example of regular, everyday life: going to the prom and feeling awesome about who they are, authentically.”
Qamar*, a former host home youth, came to Avenues when they were 17 after their mother’s living situation fell through. Like all other young people who enter the GLBT Host Home Program, Qamar was able to choose which family they stayed with, unlike the traditional foster care system. This gives the young people a feeling of agency and can be crucial to their growth.
“They gave me a tour [of their home]. I was able to go to lunch with them, and have a conversation with them, and get a feel for them before I was expected to just move in ... And you feel more like a person involved in your own life than a peg looking to be put into a slot,” Qamar says. “I went from [homelessness] to not only being on firm footing but … feeling like I was in a village of supportive, involved people."
Your support this month will help Avenues continue its important work in the community through both their GLBT Host Home Program and new ConneQT Short Term Host Home Program. It will help show these youth there are people in this world who care about them and want to see them succeed.
“Avenues puts a face to youth homelessness,” Alexis says. “And once you see that face, you can’t unsee it.”
*First name only for privacy purposes.