Groups team up to reach out to homeless LGBT Mormon youths
There are no exact figures on the number of homeless youths in Utah who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and who are also Mormon.
But two organizations estimate the figure could be upward of 200 adolescents many of whom need help to build a life off the streets after parents shunned them for coming out.
Ogden OUTreach Resource Center officials will launch a new project named Safe and Sound, aimed to assist in particular, but not exclusively, LGBT Mormon youths and their families. The new program is receiving assistance from Mormons Building Bridges, a group started to ease tensions between the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and gay-rights activists.
The group garnered international attention when more than 300 straight Mormons marched in Utah's 2012 Gay Pride Parade.
Safe and Sound organizers plan to use a two-pronged approach to help homeless youths. First, program workers want to reunify youths with families who may have kicked them out because of disagreements over sexual orientation.
If reunification isn't an option, LGBT youths may be connected with "host homes," a list of Mormon families who welcome LGBT youths who have been told to leave home.
"It's cold out there, and we have youth out there without a place to stay," said Kathy Godwin, co-president of Salt Lake City PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
Across the nation, government and homeless officials will conduct an annual census of homeless people on Jan. 31.
Homeless and LGBT officials said the number of homeless Utah youths is estimated at about 1,000, of which about 300 to 400 are LGBT. Out of those LGBT homeless youths, about 150 to 200 are believed to come from Mormon homes.
"The problem of youth living on the streets of Utah, in abandoned buildings, in camps or surfing from couch to couch is simply intolerable," said Marian Edmonds, executive director of OUTreach Resource Center. "If there's a youth that is being kicked out, then we want to provide a welcoming and affirming community that would give them a place to stay."
There are no youth shelter beds in Utah.
And drop-in centers, such as the Homeless Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City, are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Safe and Sound organizers said that means young homeless people are left to navigate for themselves in a system created to meet the needs of adults.
Homeless youths need nurturing, they are easy targets for crime and abuse, and some are prone to commit crimes, advocates say. This makes the task of helping them costly and complex. Beyond basic housing, there is a need for services that can help them obtain an education and job skills that could help lead them toward society's mainstream.
"There's no youth shelter right now," said Rachel Peterson, a psychology doctoral student at Utah State University, who will help state officials conduct the youth homeless census. "We need a safety net before they're on the street, after which it's hard to get them back."
"There's a survival culture on the street, doing illegal things, of necessity, and once ingrained in that culture, it's hard to get back into the mainstream," Peterson said. "We need a first line of defense."
Experts say that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people make up a disproportionate number of the homeless youths. They represent as much as 40 percent of the national homeless population.
Many of those youths have been kicked out of their homes or have run away.
"Foster families are reluctant to take in LGBT children in this state," said Berta Marquez, cofounder of Safe and Sound, and a Mormons Building Bridges committee member. "So they're left with nothing in this state."
Helping Mormon homeless youth
What • The OUTreach Resource Center, which assists lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied youth, will hold a community forum to discuss its new program, Safe and Sound, assisting homeless Mormon youth.
Where • Pleasant Valley Library, 5568 S. Adams Ave., Ogden
When • 7 p.m., Tuesday
Contact • Ogdenoutreach.org or 801-686-4528