An Invisible Community Makes Waves through New Housing Partnership

  • Mazzoni Center Project HOME LGBT youth homeless
An exciting and innovative collaboration between Mazzoni Center and Project HOME recently marked a major milestone.  After over a year of mentoring, skills development, coordinating housing applications and much more, this joint program successfully placed three formerly homeless LGBTQ youth into permanent housing in Center City.   
I had the opportunity to coordinate the program from the Mazzoni side of things, and I can say that last month’s lease signing marked the culmination of a tremendous amount of work and joint effort on the part of these youth, along with Mazzoni staff and our fabulous partners at Project HOME.  Our hope is to build on this success, and continue to work together on creating more opportunities for vulnerable homeless youth to find a permanent homes and stable lives.
While LGBTQ youth comprise roughly 10% of the adolescent population nationally, these youth represent almost 40% of the adolescent homeless population.  Statistically, LGBTQ youth face more systematic and institutional barriers and discrimination than their heterosexual and cisgender peers in terms of education, employment, vocation and housing.  
LGBTQ homeless youth are often considered an invisible community, as many adolescents are afraid to enter into the shelter system and instead take their chances on the street or couch surfing with friends when possible.  This is especially true for trans* identified teens who may feel unsafe within the highly gendered shelter system that provides little privacy or safety.  
Mazzoni Center has long recognized the dearth of resources able to assist LGBTQ youth who lack stable and safe housing options, and has spent the last year focusing their efforts on community partners who may hold the key to permanent housing solutions for our youth. The partnership between Project HOME and Mazzoni launched in 2015, with the goal of addressing these disparities and opening doors for LGBTQ youth in need of permanent housing.  For our part, Mazzoni developed an intensive pilot program that offered educational/vocational counseling, life skills, mentoring and a paid internship to six youth between the ages of 18 and 24.  Our interns worked 16 hours each week in the Care Services and Prevention departments.  They received weekly mentoring from agency staff and learned life skills that would support their success once permanent housing was achieved.  
Over the course of the year, these interns helped create the first ever Philly Youth Pride event; they designed workshops for the Teen Space at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference; and provided outreach to other LGBTQ youth experiencing unstable housing in partnership with Valley Youth House’s #CouchesDontCount Campaign.  
Simultaneously, the interns worked with our Adolescent Case Manager to apply for newly created LGBTQ youth-specific housing units as part of Project H.O.M.E.’s Youth Initiative at the Francis House of Peace residence, which is located in the heart of Chinatown.  As part of their effort to address homeless in the youth population, Project H.O.M.E. had designated 12 units in the building for young adults, of which six units were specifically allocated for LGBTQ youth.  At the end of their nine month internship, three of our interns were accepted into the newly opened Francis House of Peace residence - and now have permanent subsidized housing for life.  
Two of our interns were able to secure employment at Mazzoni, and are continuing to help other youth connect to sorely needed resources and supports. By the end of the internship, all interns had been connected to housing across various systems including, supervised independent living programs, subsidized housing or CBH funded units.
Having worked with homeless youth for the past 13 years, I have seen first-hand the system failures that result with youth living on the streets.  These youth are members of our families, communities, schools and churches and we need to strengthen supports in order to prevent youth from reaching this crisis point.  Research has demonstrated time and again the long term mental health & physical health risks associated with extreme poverty and housing instability and we owe our youth greater opportunities than many can currently imagine for themselves.  
The number of homeless youth, particularly LGBTQ youth, is reaching an epidemic proportion in Philadelphia, but it is a fight we can and will end with increased community support, creative partnerships, additional funding and reallocation of resources.  Our partnership with Project HOME has proven this point and is just the beginning of this process to ensure that LGBTQ youth are safe, supported and have opportunities to succeed as adults.
Stay tuned: we’ll have more on our blog this month about the Project HOME partnership, and the youth who have moved into their new, forever homes.

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