This Is Life On The Streets Of Hollywood When You’re Young, Queer And Homeless

by: By Julia Poe and Daniela Silva 04/14/2018

While struggling to find stability, homeless queer youth face an additional battle — one for their own identities.

LOS ANGELES ― On her first night without a home, Kaityanna Phillips cried herself to sleep on a sidewalk in front of a Shell gas station in north Hollywood.

She had arrived in Los Angeles on a one-way ticket from Texarkana, Texas, earlier that day. From the bus station in the heart of downtown L.A., she walked north for miles. At the edge of Hollywood, she forced herself to stop. Her feet were swollen. Her phone was dead. She was hungry and exhausted. Phillips was 20 years old and completely alone.

Phillips had started walking with one destination in sight ― the Los Angeles LGBT Youth Center. When she entered the building the next day and admired its rainbow mural, she instantly realized: “This is the only place for me here.”

The center is a haven for the LGBTQ youth who make up a disproportionate number of the young people experiencing homelessness in L.A. The center helps them confront challenges similar to those many other people in the streets face. Directors at the organization report that many of the youth experience depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. They describe repeated rapes, assaults and other abuse.

But the center also helps them navigate an additional battle ― one for their own identity. While struggling to find stability, queer youth on the street are also struggling to carve out their own place in life. And as they fight to stay alive and stay true to themselves, the issues facing LGBTQ youth are quickly becoming one of the most complicated challenges in fighting homelessness in Los Angeles.

Phillips came to California in hopes of finding something better. Her community in Texas didn’t accept or understand her gender identity, and she didn’t feel safe or wanted in her hometown. So at the age of 20, though she had never left home before, Phillips left Texas for the promise of a better life in Los Angeles.

Three years after her move, she laughs recalling that first night on the street. “I thought I was going to die. For real, I thought that was it,” she said. “‘Lay me down, I’m gonna die, it’s over.’ And that was just the first night.”

Since then, she’s had more than a dozen “addresses” in tents on the sidewalks of Hollywood. The center remains the closest thing she has to a home.

“People see trans people as a disgrace,” Phillips said, leaning back in her chair and tugging down on her bright pink shirt. “Even in the LGBT community. No one wants to talk about us. No one wants to help us. So when you walk in the center, and you’re their first priority… you never want to leave.”

Providing the complex and personalized care that young people like Phillips need is a large and difficult job.

There is little research into the mental health of LGBTQ youth, especially in the scope of homelessness studies, and none specifically focused on trans and nonbinary youth. But the few existing studies indicate that queer people end up on the street in disproportionate numbers. LGBTQ youth account for 40 percent of young people on the street nationwide, according to the Center for American Progress. The same study has found that while about 20 percent of U.S. teens in general are queer, 40 percent of homeless U.S. teens are queer. There is no precise data for the number of LGBTQ youth living on the streets of L.A.

These trends are connected to the wide range of challenges that young LGBTQ people face. Young queer people are 25 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted and twice as likely to run away from foster and group homes, the Center for American Progress found. Transgender people have an unemployment rate three times higher than the average American, research from GLAAD shows.

Faced with trauma, acute needs and questions about their gender identities, homeless LGBTQ youth need access to both mental and physical health care to make it through. They need food, showers and a safe place to rest. Many require education in the medical basics of affirming their gender identities. And many face tremendous fear, despite desperately wanting to take the next step.

Read More here at the Huffington Post