Youth Homelessness and the Psychiatric System: A Conversation with Fritz Flohr

The HRC's Kristen Paquette sits down with Fritz Flohz, a youth whom managed to overcome his battle with psychiatric disorders.

Young. Bipolar. Borderline. Homeless. Transgendered. Manic. Labels are something that Fritz Flohr is very accustomed to receiving, but does not find useful. At the age of 23 years, Fritz identifies as a survivor of psychiatric abuse and has been living on and off the streets for the past seven years.

When he was seven, Fritz was started on psychiatric medication and at 14 he was forcibly institutionalized. During this institutionalization, Fritz was sexually assaulted by his psychiatrist. Following this traumatic experience, Fritz ran away and started to make his home on the streets. While homeless, Fritz chose to stop taking his psychiatric medication and was not prepared for the harsh withdrawal that ensued. At times, he uses illegal drugs to self-medicate and has found it hard to locate housing, services, education and training opportunities that do not demand abstinence or psychiatric treatment as a condition of service.

During the last couple of years, Fritz has received help from his relatives and was able to secure housing and start school again for the first time since the 8th grade. Fritz is intelligent, articulate, and interested in grassroots education and activism. He is in the process of building a website that will educate others about alternatives to psychiatric treatment.  His written work has been published. At the time of our interview, Fritz’s living situation was untenable and he was preparing for the possibility of returning to the streets.

Fritz offers insights into program design options that would meet the needs of youth who are homeless. At a minimum, he would ensure access to safe, trans-friendly showers and shelters. Fritz has been unable to endure shelter stays in which he had to remain closeted and “pass” as normal to avoid a potential confrontation with other shelter guests or staff. Fritz also suggests providing healthy food options at drop-in centers as an alternative to processed, unhealthy foods that are often available for people who are homeless.

On a programmatic level, Fritz encourages people working in homeless services to make an effort to understand whether someone is choosing to live on the streets, or trying to find housing. He would develop opportunities for housing, education, and employment that practice harm reduction and are not conditional on receiving psychiatric services or abstinence from illicit drug use. Additionally, he would educate people who are homeless that psychiatric drugs can be addictive and may result in withdrawal symptoms. Fritz has been frustrated that as an older youth, he no longer qualifies for some programs and benefits that serve youth up to age 21.

There is a lot to learn from Fritz and his is just one story of youth homelessness.  Planners should include youth consumers in program development to ensure that services are tailored to meet their distinctive needs.

Selected Resources for Working with Homeless Youth:

Agency Readiness Index (ARI): A Self-Assessment and Planning Guide to Gauge Agency Readiness to Work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth

The ARI assesses 7 areas: Leadership, policies and procedures, human resources, staff knowledge and development, climate and environment, HIV prevention programs and practices, and community relations, and can be used to assess the needs of LGBT youth

Culture and Trauma Brief: Trauma Among Homeless Youth

This brief brings to life the issues facing youth who are homeless and the implications for providing trauma-informed, culturally competent services.

Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS)

This fact sheet summarizes SPARCS, a group intervention that was specifically designed to address the needs of chronically traumatized adolescents.

Youth Involvement in Systems of Care: A Guide to Empowerment

This resource guide targets youth, youth coordinators, family members, professionals and other adults and emphasizes the importance of empowering youth and enhancing opportunities. It provides information on youth involvement, encouraging a youth-centered movement in local systems of care.

Exploring Racism's Impact on Youth Homelessness in America

This website contains four PowerPoint presentations from the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference that took place in June 2007 in Washington DC. The authors examine the role that racism plays in youth homelessness.

Rainbow Pages: A National Resource Guide for Providers Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth

The Rainbow Pages offers resources to assist LGBT youth in a healthy, safe and nurturing lifestyle. It provides sample polices and mission statements, information on LGBT organizations, legal resources, and important websites.

Publication Date: 
Newton , MA, USA