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Notes from the field: Supporting homeless LGBTQ youth in San Antonio

By Stacy Oksenberg, Chief Human Resources Officer, YMCA of Greater San Antonio; and Chelsea Berkowitz, Program Manager, Thrive Youth Center

Cyclists enjoy a fall day outdoors during one of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio’s biannual community events.

Of the 1.6 million young people who are homeless in the U.S., 40% identify as LGBTQ. That is at least 640,000 LGBTQ youth who do not have a safe place to call home.

It is estimated that there are only 200 beds available in this country to support and welcome LGBTQ homeless youth. That math doesn’t add up. It is very troubling to understand this inequity faced by our most vulnerable youth.

Here in San Antonio, thousands of youth are homeless and 50% identify as LGBTQ. The statistics about the unique epidemic of LGBTQ displacement are startling:

  • 86% have been verbally harassed at school
  • 60% don’t feel safe at school
  • 62% of homeless LGBTQ youth attempt suicide, compared to 29% of homeless heterosexual youth.
  • LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to drop out of high school

The Thrive Youth Center near downtown San Antonio is the only local shelter for hundreds of miles that provides a safe and supportive center for homeless LGBTQ youth. In fact, many of their temporary residents have traveled from other states to find a safe place in one of Texas’s most welcoming cities. While the Thrive Youth Center only has room for ten youth at any given time in its emergency shelter, it also runs a rapid rehousing program that currently serves 25 clients.

The impact Thrive’s programs and services make in the young people’s lives is transformative. Thrive offers case management, life skills, and many other supportive services to help its clients move towards exiting the cycle of homelessness and having the ability to maintain stable housing.

The Y is working with the Thrive Youth Center to support their efforts and to find points where the two organizations’ missions intersect. Through this partnership, the YMCA of Greater San Antonio and Thrive Youth Center are expanding services and outreach to serve the unique needs of homeless LGBTQ youth and help them to reach their full potential.

About the YMCA of Greater San Antonio: For over 140 years, we have been listening and responding to our community’s most critical social needs, ensuring that everyone has the chance to learn, grow and thrive, regardless of age, income, ability, ethnicity or faith. We focus on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility, and incorporate core values of caring, honesty, respect, responsibility, and faith into all we do. Our Mission is to put Judeo-Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Learn more at https://ymcasatx.org/.

About Thrive Youth Center: Our mission is to provide a safe and supportive center for homeless LGBTQ youth so they may become productive, skilled, educated, and successful adults with the ability, opportunity, and possibility of achieving their dreams. Thrive provides an affirming, LGBTQ-positive environment where residents experience support and belonging as they take steps to exit homelessness. In addition to providing safe and secure housing, our objectives include empowering residents to pursue their life goals. Thrive provides counseling, life skills classes, and other resources to help develop self-sufficiency, secure and maintain employment, pursue educational goals, and secure and maintain stable housing. Learn more at https://www.thriveyouthcenter.org.