As we head back to school, the OutCenter recognizes the hardships that LGBTQ+ students and all students living in our service area have faced over the past school year. For example, not all of our LGBTQ+ students are living in a safe home that encourages and supports their most authentic selves. We recognize, respect, and honor the unique position schools have when it comes to the safety of all students, including LGBTQ+ at-risk students. And in support of the work you do we’re providing you information on a recent program the OutCenter has been working on to end LGBTQ+ youth homelessness in our area. 

Continue reading here.

Recently, the OutCenter began a partnership with OutFront Kalamazoo to combat LGBTQ+ youth homelessness by bringing their Host Homes program to our service area (Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties). The Host Homes program helps prevent LGBTQ youth homelessness by connecting LGBTQ youth who have been ostracized from their homes with supportive host families, providing young people with a safe place to live while the OutCenter, OutFront Kalamazoo, and local faith leaders work toward reconciliation between the young person and their family of origin. Host Home families are fully vetted using best practices established in foster care and other similar programs and are quickly being replicated across the country. 

In Berrien County, there are a reported 706 unhoused youths, 197 in Cass, and  376 in Van Buren (1,279 youth). Nationally, we know that LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience being unhoused and on average, LGBTQ+ youth make up about 40% of the unhoused youth population, while only making up about 6% of the total national population. If we apply national averages to our service area, that’s about 511 LGBTQ+ youth throughout the three counties. This is an underestimate, as recent school climate surveys show higher than national average numbers of LGBTQ+ youth in our area. But the statistics don’t stop there. Lack of family support also leads to additional disproportionate impacts on LGBTQ+ students, such as higher suicide attempts, higher levels of depression, higher substance use/abuse, and higher levels of victimization in human trafficking and sex work. Schools and the OutCenter are in unique positions to help prevent the victimization and stigmatization of youth who are trying to live authentically as themselves in our rural communities. 

OutFront Kalamazoo and OutCenter of Southwest Michigan are working in collaboration to address these issues via the Host Homes program, housing at-risk youth in affirming spaces, when possible, turning family rejection into acceptance, and reversing the negative impacts LGBTQ+ youth endure due to family rejection and so much more. The goal of the Host Homes program is to connect homeless youth with a vetted safe and stable housing environment. Host families provide day-to-day care for a teenager between the ages of 13 and 17 for up to six months. In doing so, the family creates a safe haven that allows the teenager to be their authentic self, thrive at home and school. During those six months, Host Homes professionals work with and educate the youth’s family of origin/legal guardian, helping them to reconcile with and be supportive of their child’s identity. Six months is a good amount of time with many favorable outcomes with the birth family/guardians. In that process, if there is no path forward to family acceptance, Host Homes works with government agencies and partners to find an appropriate alternative for the LGBTQ+ youth. 

For more information, contact Hunter Willard at hunter@outfrontkzoo.org.

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