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- 2000+ LGBT youth experience unaccompanied homelessness in Utah each year.
- Volunteer host family and referral networks are being built to intervene when a youth would become homeless.
- To address the problem long term, the scientific work of the Family Acceptance Project and the LDS Church Policy statements of www.MormonsAndGays.org are being given needed additional publicity.
The Problem (in more detail)
It’s estimated that about 5000 unaccompanied youth experience homelessness in Utah each year, with 30% of those experiencing homelessness for more than one year. Of this population, national statistics show 40% self-identify as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender), and almost 70% of those report being rejected by their families, often with them being kicked out of their homes. The percentage that are actually LGBT could be considerably higher.
Where can these kids go? Many are too young to be accepted at shelters, and the older ones generally find shelters to be an unsafe environment. Few qualify for foster care, and the foster care system has difficulty placing LGBT youth. For the OUTreach Resource Centers, all they found they could do in many cases was provide a tent and sleeping bag. When the children didn’t return, who knew what had become of them?
Building a Solution
In 2012, Marian Edmonds of Ogden OUTreach talked to Mormons Building Bridges about the problem, and what they might do together to work on it. From that discussion came the Safe and Sound Program to reduce LGBT youth homelessness in Utah. Safe and Sound is trying to use the preventative measures of intervention and education to achieve its goals.
The pressing problem Safe and Sound seeks to treat is LGBT youth being kicked out of their homes. We want to be there to intervene, provide a temporary home for the youth, and attempt to reunify the family where that makes sense. To be able to do this and have a significant impact, Safe and Sound needs host families where a youth can stay spread throughout the state, it needs a large network of referrers that can tell us when a youth is facing a crisis, it needs volunteer counselors for the youth and the families, and it needs other volunteers to help organize the effort. We have plans for doing all these things, but we can’t do them by ourselves.
Over the longer term, education is the better way to reduce LGBT youth homelessness. There are two pillars of Safe and Sound’s educational message.The first pillar is the scientific work of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her team have spent decades studying the relationship of family attitudes toward LGBT youth to outcomes for the youth such as suicide, homelessness, illegal drug use, and contraction of sexually transmitted diseases. Based on their data, they have prepared booklets that teach families how they can protect their children through acceptance, even in the context of conservative religious belief systems. In particular, there’s an LDS specific booklet that has been positively reviewed by church authorities, though not officially endorsed (but we’ll see about that!).
The second pillar of Safe and Sound’s educational message comes from being based in Utah where 60% of the population is Mormon, which is reflected in the homeless youth population as well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published a website, www.MormonsAndGays.org, that while not without its flaws in LGBT eyes, makes it very clear that LDS caregivers should not be rejecting and ejecting LGBT youth. While this is an extremely beneficial message in the effort to reduce LGBT youth homelessness in Utah, it has yet to receive significant church publicity within the state. Safe and Sound and Mormons Building Bridges are both working to help spread the word.
While the educational approach is the long term solution,
Ways You Can Help
I know many people would like to help Safe and Sound in its mission to reduce LGBT youth homelessness in Utah. To facilitate that process, we’ve created the Friends of Safe and Sound list, and we’d like you to please join. You’ll receive an email after you join with a link to a private page where you can fill out additional information. We promise not to share your information with any other group. We’re trying not to collect private information in the first place except where we feel it is important. FYI, we will be trying to contact everyone who has expressed an interest in Safe and Sound previously, and it will make that job easier if you go ahead and join the list now.
Safe and Sound has a Facebook page which you can visit and like. That page and this site will be coordinated in the future, but for now, the Facebook page is where to go to hear the latest news, and this website is where you can join the Friends of Safe and Sound list.
If you are interested in becoming a host family (Thank You!), you can learn more about the requirements and process here.
If you would like to contact your local LDS leaders in Utah about Safe and Sound’s efforts and how they can assist them, we have created a brochure that you can print out and share while speaking with them. Moving forward, we will be creating materials targeted at other groups, but this is what we have today.
We appreciate whatever help you are able to give.