Homeless Shelter for LGBT Youth Opens in Washington
A shelter for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people is opening in Washington, D.C. It is called Casa Ruby.
Giselle Hartzog is transgender. She was forced to leave a women's shelter.
"Once they found out I was trans, they were very discriminating against me and wouldn't let me come back."
Giselle Hartzog left her home in Mississippi four years ago because her mother did not support Giselle's self-identification as a woman.
Ms. Hartzog moved to Washington. She had no home. She often slept in the central train station. She would have sex with strangers for money. Ms. Hartzog was arrested earlier this year. Officials told her she should go to Casa Ruby. She will be one of the first people to live there.
Ms. Hartzog says Casa Ruby will give her what she needs: safety, food and shelter. She says she cannot ask for too much more.
The shelter is named for Ruby Corado, who created it.
"It's a house where people can be themselves. And where they can be safe. And more importantly, for me, a place where they can be loved and where we can love one another."
Homeless LGBT youth can live at Casa Ruby for as long as 18 months.
Larry Villegas helps the young people find work and a place to live. He says while they are at Casa Ruby, they must work to improve their lives. He says they will have duties.
"There should be 35 hours per week of employment or community work or education or job training...And we want to make it in a way that it is always from ‘What did you do today to get better?' and celebrate that accomplishment."
Mr. Villegas says the staff will help the house members reach those goals.
Ruby Corado says Casa Ruby will have 18 beds and clothing for those who arrive with nothing. She says her goal from the beginning was to offer LGBT homeless youth the same help that is given to many people in Washington.
Shelter residents will be given health care and treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. Casa Ruby will become not just a new home, but the beginning of a new life.
Maria Foscarinis works at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. She says LGBT youth need that kind of support. She says many public services are not available to young people because of their age. She says there are a lot of barriers to remove to solve the problems these youths face.
Activists for the homeless estimate that 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That is about 400,000 American young people. Some of them are as young as 13. LGBT youth who are rejected by family members are at higher risk of suicide. Studies show those from highly rejecting families are more than eight times more likely to try kill themselves than those with accepting families.
Some places that help homeless youth would not offer shelter to young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This practice was so widespread that the federal agency that funds shelters created new rules. These require homeless youth shelters to provide the same treatment to LGBT youth as other young people.
I'm Caty Weaver.