Develop Community Partnerships

Youth who are LGBTQI2-S need strong role models who understand the stigma and discrimination they face. Community support and safe places where youth can find acceptance are critical. This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless.

This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless. It was derived from the results of a Listening Tour of programs serving this population. Visit the Listening Tour Page for more information, or read the draft report: Learning from the Field: Programs Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth Experiencing Homelessness.

Youth who are LGBTQI2-S need strong role models who understand the stigma and discrimination they face. Providers emphasize the need for community support and safe places where youth can find acceptance.

The following strategies can help promote collaborations and community partnerships designed to support LGBTQI2-S youth experiencing homelessness:

Work with LGBTQI2-S stakeholders to identify and respond to youth needs in the community. Partnering with the LGBTQI2-S community is at the heart of the Larkin Street Youth Services’ LGBT housing model, Castro Housing. “People in the community were seeing kids on the street and asking what could be done. LGB-specific providers, including our Larkin Street Drop-In Center, came together and thought about the youth that we see and the services they need.” Larkin Street Youth Services recognizes that their housing model was a result of collaboration between “queer-centric” organizations in San Francisco. “If we hadn’t been in partnerships with these groups, Castro Housing would not have happened.”

Provide safe spaces through partnership with the LGBTQI2-S community. Youth and providers emphasized the importance for safe social spaces just for LGBTQI2-S youth. “It is good to be around straight youth sometimes. But we need a place just for us,” shared a youth. Positive adult role models who share a LGBTQI2-S identity are critical to helping a young person realize their own potential. Through partnership with LGBTQI2-S providers and advocacy groups, youth homeless service providers strive to present positive role models.

The Ruth Ellis Center recognized the importance of partnering with LGBTQI2-S adult advocacy groups. “The importance of how integrated we’ve become with LGBT adult advocacy groups cannot be overemphasized,” reports the Executive Director. “They provide the support, advocacy, and role models necessary to make what we do possible.” The Ruth Ellis Center has developed relationships with Black Men Together, PFLAG Detroit, The Bears, and others. These partnerships help youth to develop mentor relationships and find a sense of belonging within the community. One youth shared that he started volunteering with R.E.C. Boyz, a group that promotes safer sex in the gay community, reporting that it gave him a feeling of empowerment and purpose.

Create strategic partnerships to serve specific sub-groups. Transgender youth represent a small percentage of homeless youth, but have unique emotional and physical needs. Youth on Fire has worked to provide for these youth through a partnership with Transcend, a sister program specifically focused on transgender women. Transcend offers case management, provides support for name changes and gender alterations on identification, makes referrals to doctors who are trans-friendly, and provides physical and emotional guidance during transition. Youth on Fire is limited in being able to provide such specialized services for their transgender members, but this partnership allows for a higher level of care.

Partner with other homeless service agencies in the community. Many providers emphasized the importance of connecting agencies that serve homeless youth or adults. “Our partnerships with youth housing and drop-in centers are so important to help us identify youth for our program.” Youth on Fire partners with other mainstream programs to conduct outreach with LGBTQI2-S youth. “When agencies providing services to youth experiencing homelessness have conflict, it can feel like divorced parents, undermining the work that we do. We need to become a true community of care.” They felt that fostering good communication between agencies would help providers identify LGBTQI2-S youth who are falling through the cracks for specialized services, and would create a broader range of referrals to meet client needs.

Youth on Fire administered surveys at a community youth pride event in Boston to identify these partners. Responses identified places of worship, shelters, schools, skate parks, and punk shows as common places where GLBT youth spend time. Youth on Fire’s Safe Spaces Coordinator reached out to those locations as a result. They recently set up an informational table at a punk show and also contacted shelters. If shelters share that they see queer youth or indicate a need for training, the Safe Spaces Coordinator responds with an invitation to refer youth to Youth on Fire and an offer to train their staff. “These connections are not easy to make, but you can have success if you’re persistent.” The Safe Spaces Coordinator networks with all possible partners—both homeless services and GLBT groups.

Make referrals to culturally competent agencies and providers. Most homeless service agencies rely on referrals to health clinics, mental health agencies, and other specialized social services. However, LGBTQI2-S youth may be at a disadvantage when referred to outside services. The referred provider may not be appropriately trained to care for their needs. Most Listening Tour sites were aware of the need to make appropriate referrals in order to maintain trust with their young clients.

Larkin Street Youth Services is building a network of national and regional referrals for youth experiencing homelessness. They do this by reaching out to providers and engaging them in a dialogue about LGBTQI2-S young people. Other programs, such as Outside In, Youth On Fire, and UCAN Host Home Program, also reached out to potential referral services to ensure that they are sensitive to the needs of LGBTQI2-S youth. Larkin Street Youth Services emphasized the importance of honesty when making referrals. “We do what we can to seek out and make appropriate referrals, but we always tell youth that we don’t know if the referral we are giving them is LGBTQ-friendly.”

Make referrals as seamless as possible. Many programs emphasized the importance of assuring that as many resources as possible are available at the agency. The more services available in the same place at the same time, the more the youth are likely to utilize them. However, if this model isn’t available, and services are scattered around the community, referrals and access to services need to be as seamless as possible. This might include providing transportation, accompanying the youth to an appointment, helping the youth navigate bureaucratic hurdles, and other assistance.

Develop relationships with community stakeholders, including police departments and school districts, to improve the community of care. Providers report that local police did not know about The Ruth Ellis Center until recently. After repeatedly reaching out and informing the officers about their services, the police are now more aware. “Now they bring kids to us instead of arresting them,” explained the staff. They also emphasized their efforts to build relationships with The Department of Child and Family Services. “We’ve engaged in capacity building with child protective services that was very positive. They have now become the impromptu community ambassador, referring calls from families struggling with their LGBT child to us.”

The Ruth Ellis Center also works to build bridges to schools, meeting with school boards when a young person is re-entering class. “This way everyone, from superintendent to teacher, is on the same page about the student. When we get resistance from educators we try to inform and train the school faculty as much as we can about the issues these kids face, like protecting them from bullying, and listening to their pronoun and name preferences.”

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA