Turning Theory Into Action: SMYAL Houses LGBTQ+ Youth With Dignity

As one of the most vital health needs, access to housing can be the catalyst for helping individuals escape poverty and live productive lives. The Corporation for Supportive Housing describes housing as “medicine,” constituting “one of the most basic and powerful social determinants of health,” which can dictate health trajectory.

About 17 per every 10,000 people in the United States experienced homelessness on a given night in 2018 and youth under age 25 make up 7 percent of the homeless population, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Young adults who identify as LGBTQ+ are 120 percent more likely to report homelessness. According to a Washington Post survey, nearly half of Washington, D.C.’s homeless youth identify as LQBTQ+.

LGBT youth are at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, suicide, substance use, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity and cancers among other health concerns. Creating initiatives to support this population requires a change in public perception, including a change in perception of what homelessness looks like, says Jorge Membreno, director of Youth Housing and Clinical Services for SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders).

To kick off our first Turning Theory Into Action day of service, The Root Cause Coalition team chose to volunteer at SMYAL to address access to housing for LGBTQ+ individuals. SMYAL supports and provides necessary resources to LGBTQ+ youth in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. The Root Cause Coalition team helped set up furniture and create a welcoming space for those who will be participating in SMYAL’s Youth Housing Program. The housing program provides transitional housing as well as resources like personalized case management, medical and behavioral health care, financial resources for food, social support and more for individuals ages 18-24.

The Root Cause Coalition team

Participants of the Youth Housing Program are able to develop life skills with resources from SMYAL while they work or attend school. The program is a part of the District of Columbia Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement for Single Individuals and all individuals are interviewed by SMYAL to ensure they are a good fit for the program.

Last year, SMYAL created a transitional housing unit with 12 beds and is currently in the process of establishing a second unit that will have an additional 14 beds. Each house will have a case manager, one who provides referral resources to tenants and another providing mental health and wellness resources. Once participants move in, they meet with their case manager to establish goals and a framework for achieving those goals while they complete the program.  Weekly check-ins with the case manager provide an opportunity to revisit goals and receive further guidance as needed. For example, a goal of getting a new job could mean work with a case manager to update a tenant’s resume.

Case managers also assist with life skills training such as cooking, budgeting and saving income. Participants receive resource allocation support via giftcards for a food budget, transportation, hygiene products and more. Providing the youth with these essential needs means they can focus on successful rehabilitation. The transitional housing program helps tenants move toward sustainable independence, which can mean living independently, with a friend or with family once they finish the program.

You can help SMYAL by donating or supporting events such as SMYAL’s Annual Fall Brunch. For more information please visit http://smyal.org/.

Next month, The Root Cause Coalition staff will address isolation and loneliness when we volunteer with We Are Family DC, an organization that provides services for inner city seniors facing isolation and loneliness.