You are here

G-Sync: Let's sticker it to homelessness in GR

Thursday, November 13, 2014

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it's worth pausing for a moment of gratitude and reflecting on how remarkable it is to live in a city where so many grant programs have originated. Not coincidentally, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation has been at the center of many of these acts of generosity for nearly 100 years.
 
Before GRCF became the large, successful, and impactful foundation we have today, it all began with a very modest $25 donation in 1922 that was applied immediately to the purchasing a file cabinet. As I sat down with Marcia Rapp, vice president of programs of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, I asked her if that cabinet was still around.
 
She laughed, informing me that it's served it's purpose and has been gone for a very long time. But what has not exited the building is their mission to serve our community as new challenges present themselves over time. From little movements like donations of money and the investments of time have come big changes, and so over the years the impact of our community foundation has grown, exhibiting the flexibility to respond to needs and proving what can be accomplished when we commit ourselves as a society to the solving the challenges in our society.
 

So it was not surprising this past September when the community foundation launched a new fund based on a $100,000 matching challenge gift from long-time foundation donors Shelley Padnos and Carol Sarosik, who, along with a group of concerned community members, began the Our LGBT Fund.
 
Almost immediately that fund grew from $1 to $281,000 in an eye-popping amount of time, as everyone from city residents to area businesses contributed to this new fund that allows the foundation to establish a new endowment where the LGBT voice will be addressed. What got most people excited, beyond the rapid rise of the contributions, was the focus of this new fund: to help reduce the risks of our city's LGBT homeless youth.
 
As I sat down with Macia Rapp and others involved in this issue locally, I sought to explore this important issue. But as I pressed on for answers, I was met with more questions. I felt like I was back in a college English class, as Rilke's urge to "love the questions" from his "Letters to a Young Poet" were not producing the same calm I had felt in my more idealistic years.
 
In short, I wanted to know how bad it is for our homeless LGBT population in Grand Rapids. It's hard to get a definitive answer, but the best information comes from the people working on the front line of this issue in our city – though I did have some personal experience with the topic.

Personal Story

No, I wasn't a former homeless youth, but in the early 1990s, I, along with my partner at the time, took in a high school senior who had been kicked out of his Jenison home simply because he was gay. And while I did not seek to become involved in this matter, it did present itself on our doorstep so we responded as best we could as kids ourselves, fresh out of college.  
 
This front-row experience allowed me an opportunity to see what happens to an area youth facing a crisis in housing. I saw first-hand how stressful it was for this teen to lose his home, school, network of friends, and the family stability he once had. In an attempt to protect all parties, this student eventually was enrolled in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, sought emancipation from his parents, and was eventually placed in a more suitable environment. I recognized it would be a better situation than being housed in a twenty-something, post-college apartment environment where working and play on a very limited budget rarely meant adding time for tutoring or packing school lunches.
 
This, however, was an experience from an era nearly 25 years ago. I wanted to believe that a lot has changed with regards to homelessness but as, I would discover, it's quite the opposite. Grand Rapids has seen its share of people facing a housing crisis, but in the area of youth, particularly our LGBT youth, we see these numbers are still quite high.
 
It is estimated while youth only make up 5 percent of the overall homeless population of the U.S., that 20-40 percent of that number are identified as LGBT homeless youth. This is a startling statistic indicates the need for more concrete study – a fact backed up by Stand Up For Kids.
 
Local Movements 

One agency in Grand Rapids working with our homeless youth is Arbor Circle, who will be observing National Homeless Youth Awareness month all November with a series of events devoted to engaging our society around this vital topic.
 

Speaking with Ashley Pattee, supervisor of homeless youth services and street outreach at Arbor Circle, it became very clear that, while plenty of our city's youth are receiving services, within the area of our LGBT youth there is a lot of mystery.
 
"It has been very difficult to get the data we need to track our local LGBT homeless youth population walking through the door during intake simply because many have experienced rejection based on the identity or revelation of said identity," says Pattee, who is quick to assert that homeless youth face a housing crisis for a host of reasons, ranging from rejection by a parent to physical or sexual abuse within the home.
 
Pattee reminds me that one reason we have such uneven reporting is quite often because we do not ask the questions. The obvious response upon hearing this information would be to just ask the question, right?
 
However, as Tami VandenBerg, executive director at Well House, an adult housing facility in the city that is looking at adding LGBT housing, explains, it's not that simple. She says people during an intake often seek to protect themselves, offering what they think you want to hear to gain them the safety of a roof over their head.

 

Read the full article here.