$250,000 LGBT homeless youth initiative launched

In an unusual show of statewide cooperation, eight South Florida groups and Florida itself have launched a coalition to fight homelessness among LGBT youth.

It is believed that 40 percent of homeless youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, according to Robin Schwartz, executive director of Aqua Foundation for Women, the group that first conceived the LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Initiative.

“It struck me: How can Miami not have services for LGBTQ youth that get kicked out of their home?” said Schwartz, whose group has usually given scholarships and funded women’s health projects. “I’m one of the founders of Aqua and I know from the beginning we always wanted to be an organization that uncovered the needs of the community and then found ways to get them filled. I asked what was stopping this from moving forward. Of course it was funding.”

First, Schwartz and her board engaged the group’s male members, called Aqua Men. After a men’s dinner in which the homeless initiative was proposed, state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, told Schwartz he was “inspired” by what he heard.

Richardson, Florida’s first out gay state lawmaker, helped secure $100,000 in state funding to pay for LGBTQ-inclusive lodging through Citrus Health Network in Hialeah, which donated another $50,000 to the initiative.

The Republican House and Senate approved Richardson’s request during the 2013 legislative session, Richardson said Wednesday at a Good Government Initiative luncheon at University of Miami.

After funding seemed certain for the Citrus deal, Schwartz approached two other South Florida philanthropic groups, The Miami Foundation and Our Fund, seeking to split $100,000 to hire a liaison and help feed the homeless youth in the program.

“How cool would it be if the three main LGBT foundations in South Florida, if the three of us did this together, partnered equally,” Schwartz said. “First of all, we’d be funding something super important. Secondly, what a great thing to tell our community, that ‘Guess what, we’re all working in this together for one common cause’.”

Our Fund, a gay-oriented foundation based in Fort Lauderdale, and Miami Foundation’s LGBT Community Projects Fund, agreed to share the $100,000 with Aqua Foundation.

Aqua Foundation, which holds a fundraising party Saturday night in South Beach, has also committed to help fund the program for three years. Other partners are Miami Coalition for the Homeless and SAVE Dade.

Last week, the homeless initiative hired a liaison, Landon “LJ” Woolston, a transgender man born and raised in Miami.

“Fortunately, I’ve never been homeless. I have felt emotionally homeless at times. I don’t really have a supportive family. That certainly is a motivating factor in why I want to do this work,” said Woolston, 30, who graduated from UM’s psychology program in 2005. “Had I come out as trans when I was a minor, the potential to have been homeless may have been there. Which is why I always tell youth to come out when they’re safe.”

Woolston is working out of two agencies that deal directly with LGBT youth: the Alliance for LGBTQ Youth in North Miami and Pridelines Youth Services in Miami Shores.

“My job is really two-fold. I will be one of the care coordinators on staff at the Alliance. I will be managing cases, care coordinating for kids who are homeless, or on the verge of homelessness, or at risk for homelessness,” he said. “My other role … is to train providers and to create more inclusive spaces for youth countywide, specifically around homelessness, so that anybody facing these issues can ideally seek out services where they will be affirmed and included.”

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