MEMPHIS, Tenn. — More than a year ago, directors of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) decided it was time to begin a more concerted outreach effort to area LGBT youth.
“We were setting priorities for the year, and the board and I made the decision to focus more on youth,” MGLCC Executive Director Will Batts told qnotes in a telephone interview. “We talked about really working hard to make the Center a safer place for youth.”
Their goal to reach out exposed Memphis’ dirty little secret. As MGLCC got the word out about their new youth programming, more and more young people showed up. Many of them were homeless, or near homelessness. Many had lost their jobs.
“We started to see more kids coming to the Center in some sort of crisis,” Batts said. “Whether that crisis was at school or family related or some addiction issue or literally being out on the street. We hadn’t seen a lot of that before.”
Batts and other MGLCC directors realized they had a problem on their hands. Something had to be done about it.
“We looked at several different models, including one in New York where they found people who owned empty apartments or hotel owners with extra space,” Batts said. “That just didn’t work for us. We don’t have that kind of cluster city. We’re very spread out here.”
After considering several options, Batts and other MGLCC directors finally found what they were looking for in Time Out Youth’s emergency housing program.
“Charlotte’s program was the best fit for the resources we had and the program we were trying to start,” Batts said. “A lot of our program is based on that idea and I had several conversations with [Time Out Youth Executive Director] Steve Bentley over the phone and email.”
Youth Empowerment Services, or YES, was born.
Bob Loos, a licensed therapist and YES committee member, told qnotes it is important to provide for youth in need. That’s why MGLCC operates a peer support group, food pantry and clothing closet in addition to their new housing program.
Loos also thinks caring for mental and emotional well-being is just as important as ensuring youth are physically safe. He’s volunteering his services, pro bono, for any youth who comes to MGLCC for assistance.
Utlimately, Loos and Batts say they would like to see YES expanded. Currently, the emergency housing service can only help youth ages 18-24. In the future, they’d like to take in younger teenagers who are just as vulnerable to homelessness and other crises. : :
This piece appeared in the April 17, 2010-April 30, 2010 print edition.