Cara Dessert, CEO of The Center, shares on update on the organization's youth programming during the pandemic.
Many of us remember what it was like to be an LGBTQ youth and the unique struggles we faced. Some kept our identity a secret, afraid to lose people we loved, our jobs, our communities. More than a few of us were kicked out of our homes and disowned by our families. We likely did not have a welcoming and affirming space like The Hillcrest and South Bay Youth Centers, to help us along our journey - to meet other people like us, discover ourselves and our voices, to provide resources, to feel welcomed, valued, and supported, and to find belonging in community. Research tells us what we already know and have lived - that LGBTQ youth are underserved and more likely than their straight peers to experience abuse, neglect, bullying, harassment and other victimization. Last year, The Center provided over 8,000 service visits to youth; and we have continued, every day this new year, to provide help and support to our LGBTQ young people. Today I’d like to highlight just a few of The Center’s programs dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth and making a real difference in their lives.
The Center knows that safe, accessible emergency housing is an essential need for LGBTQ youth. As part of our Housing Continuum, The Center offers a program called Safe S.T.A.Y., overnight Emergency Housing for LGBTQ transitional age youth 18-24 that, as of this past weekend, is available seven nights a week! Resources include gender neutral living quarters and restrooms, shower, laundry facilities, clothing, toiletries, as well as an LGBTQ empowering staff and case managers who provide access to resources and referrals, with a focus on locating permanent housing for the youth. If you, or someone you know, is in need of this service, please call us at 619.694.6182.
During COVID-19, our Youth Centers, Hillcrest Youth Center (HYC) and South Bay Youth Center (SBYC), have merged their programming, continuing to make a life-changing difference for LGBTQ youth with dedicated virtual programs and discussion groups, but some youth do not have a safe space in their house to attend Zoom meetings, and they also can be intimidated by strangers in these groups. The Youth Team has pivoted to asking the youth specifically what they need during this time, and have responded to those needs with one-on-one support, care packages, resources, and referrals. Some youth request gender-affirming clothing and makeup; some are navigating family financial issues and want to help their families and siblings by getting a job, so Youth Teams help with resume and cover letter writing, as well as clothing and preparation for job interviews; some youth’s families need food and the Youth Teams deliver food or make trips to grocery stores, 'FaceTiming' with youth for them to choose the foods they want, some youth never having had an opportunity to do that before. They also help parents searching for Behavioral Health Services referrals for youth in crisis, provide contacts with The Center’s Families Program for discussion and support groups, and so much more.
We congratulate SBYC on their upcoming second anniversary, and we look forward to when it is safe for us all to celebrate in person, in community, the incredible work being done for LGBTQ+ youth and families in the South Bay.
Our LGBTQ youth are our future, we owe them support, love, and the resources they need to flourish and The Center is committed every day to doing just that.