The impacts of COVID-19 on a community can be complex. People across our region have experienced its myriad effects on life the past several months, from unemployment to housing instability, but for LGBTQ youth those factors are often multiplied.
“People of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ)-identified people, irrespective of age, are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and be at a higher risk of COVID-19,” states a recent report from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which outlines the rehousing of LGBTQ young people as a critical component to its Emergency Solutions Grants recipients’ COVID-19 response. “Additionally, typical experiences of many youth and young adults who experience homelessness result in greater challenges to obtain stable housing and increase the likelihood of contact with more people, widening the spread of the virus.”
Time Out Youth Center (TOY) has been serving the LGBTQ youth population of the Charlotte region for decades and their housing support programs have never been more important than in 2020, as a pandemic rages on across the region.
“The lack of resources afforded to the poor people or marginalized communities — COVID has exposed that,” says Shakira Clarke, the youth housing specialist at TOY. Since March, the organization has housed 28 people. Youth range from 18 to 24 years old in the housing program, while those 11 to 20 years old can access the services of the organization.
Clarke is happy that everyone that has been housed in the program is still housed, despite reduced working hours for people. “No one has lost their job due to COVID,” she says, speaking of their current clients. While October and November are typically slower months for TOY, she says that numbers have been picking up again. Just this month, they have added one more young person to a Host Home Program and two additional individuals who are renting on their own with support from TOY. There are two more currently looking for housing.
I first spoke with Clarke in July and she explained the process for a young person in need. Staff were busy juggling virtual programs, delivering food and scheduling appointments for people to access services like laundry, fresh showers, a food pantry or “life essentials closet” in a safe way.
According to the organization’s website, they provided over $1,000 in financial assistance to clients in its housing case management before March 26. Clarke says they have definitely had to go into their budget to support folks during the pandemic since then. Many in the program have had their work hours cut and have relied on financial assistance to pay rent, saying they have likely doubled their expenditures in this area.
TOY has benefited from community partnerships as well. “Because of my connections in the community, it has allowed me to get access to some funds,” says Clarke. “So, instead of tapping into Time Out Youth’s funds, we’ve been able to tap into some community funds and it has allowed us to help individuals … that’s been helpful.”
There are four key types of housing support in Charlotte. Emergency housing, which includes short-term placement in hotels or other facilities, transitional housing which is from 60 days up to two years, permanent housing which is income-based and often for those experiencing chronic homelessness, and renting-on-your-own programs.
The Host Home Program at TOY is considered a transitional housing program. For those that are eligible, they can stay for up to 90 days.
Individuals first go through a general intake with Clarke, where they gather demographic information and assess what resources are needed. “If you are eligible for housing outside in the community, then we’re talking through all the options that are available,” she says. Clarke explains that some people may not be ready for independent housing, and the realities of someone’s experiences and potential barriers may differ at any given moment.
Those entering the Host Home Program then look through a binder with information on individuals or families that have been vetted and trained in the program. A meet and greet follows and if everyone agrees, a 30-day contract is signed and evaluations take place to determine if further housing is possible or needed.
There’s more to these programs than just a roof over your head, however. “Coming into the program, the goal is housing stability,” says Clarke. Those enrolled in housing support programs at TOY have to apply for 10 jobs a day if they are currently unemployed and at least four to six jobs a day if they are employed part-time.
TOY provides groceries and transportation, and Clarke checks in every week to make sure living spaces are tidy. Folks also complete a “Right to Rent” class as they exit the program. This teaches them how to read a lease and know their rights as a renter. It also provides them with basic life skills, like paying rent on time or getting repairs completed. “There’s things that we think are simple, it’s not something they have thought about or even learned — or seen a healthy example of,” says Clarke.
It’s been nearly a year since the first positive case of COVID-19 hit the United States and Clarke worries about what lies ahead for the young people she is trying to help.
“Beginning of January — it’s going to be extremely hard to house folks,” she says. “There’s [a] shortage of affordable housing. Landlords are still fighting right now and will continue in January to get backpay on the rent that hasn’t been paid because of the pandemic, and a lot of landlords are going to be raising their prices maybe $50 to $100 more on their rent just to get back the money they’ve lost.” She makes a point to stress the definition of affordable housing and how that definition isn’t the same for everyone. She also thinks that, despite the legality of such practices, the community is going to see unfair housing restrictions placed on those seeking to rent from landlords that will have larger pools of individuals vying for housing. She is trying to move as many of the youth in need as possible into some sort of housing before the end of the month.
Point Source Youth, a national non-profit dedicated to ending youth homelessness, promotes host home programs as well, but is also working to raise awareness of Direct Cash Transfer programs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Larry Cohen, co-founder and executive director of Point Source Youth, talked about innovation during times of disruption, like what is being seen now with COVID-19, during a recent webinar with Funders Concerned About AIDS, Funders Together to End Homelessness and Funders for LGBTQ Issues.
“One example of innovations with housing…if youth can’t get housing or if we can’t get hotel rooms, can we give youth cash and case management to help them co-navigate and self-direct their own housing?” he asked.
A pilot program in New York will draw on evidence around cost effectiveness, youth experience in the program, services and program evaluations, housing stability and well-being to build a model that can be replicated in communities across the country. “If this current crisis has proven anything, it’s that there is a limit to our ideas around helping people,” said Gabriel Maldonado, CEO of TruEvolution, in an April webinar. “There needs to be an evolution in our approach and an extension of trust to the people we serve.”
More than 3.5 million young adults in the U.S. experience homelessness or housing instability each year. This population — including LGBTQ, HIV positive and Black and Brown young adults experiencing homelessness — is also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Mahlon Randolph, a youth advocate, public health educator and community organizer working in Georgia, also participated in the webinar and pointed to the disjointed landscape in serving a vulnerable LGBTQ youth population that is at risk of homelessness. “These things are actually now at the height of our focus in our human condition,” said Randolph. “The determinants that put LGBTQ people and people of color into those situations that make us require housing and HIV services and healthcare services, that are supplemented by the government in the first place because we can’t afford them — all of those things now are the first to go.”
“The lack of resources has been here,” says Clarke. “If we don’t take the measures to do the prevention work, the intervention is going to be much harder.”
But how does the program work? Government and funding regulations can sometimes be inhibiting to community organizations. Utilizing direct cash transfers to end youth homelessness during COVID-19 is a growing global intervention that provides promising options. Programs like that at Point Source Youth give youth cash in a frequency that works best for them for up to two years with additional support like financial literacy training, employment services, education planning, benefits and housing counseling. Most importantly, they are focused on the individual needs of youth. Someone’s needs often differ from what “we” think they need, and circumstances affect frequency and success. These programs work in tandem with direct cash payments and allow young people to make the best decisions with their own lives, while working with support staff like case managers.
Clarke spoke of this flexibility to understand the individual needs of young people that TOY serves. “It really depends on the actual young person and if there are any presenting barriers,” said Clarke. “We want to make sure we are addressing the immediate need, but we always want to make sure that young people are aware that housing resources in Charlotte are extremely limited.” She explained that this scenario is not new since COVID-19. “There’s no place in Charlotte that you can walk through the doors and get housing right away.”
To support the housing programs at TOY, visit timeoutyouth.org. Clarke says the biggest needs are items for their life essentials closet, bus passes and gift cards that help offset a client’s expenses. TOY also has a “Give the Gift Campaign” that helps make someone’s house a home, helping clients transition into the community. Lists are available at timeoutyouth.org/youthwishlist.
For more information, or for those interested in joining the Host Home Program, email Clarke at email@example.com.
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