“LGBTQ youth have a 120 percent higher risk of experiencing homelessness than their heterosexual counterparts,” said Hunter Willard, director of Homeless Youth Programs at OutFront Kalamazoo. “The consequences of this disparity are far-reaching and can last a lifetime.”
That’s why the organization is partnering with the OUTCenter of Southwest Michigan to combat LGBTQ+ youth homelessness throughout Berrien, Van Buren and Cass Counties.
The Host Homes program helps prevent LGBTQ+ youth homelessness by connecting LGBTQ+ youth who have been ostracized from their homes with pro-LGBTQ+ host families.
The program pairs young people with safe places to live with supportive interim host families while the OUTCenter, OutFront Kalamazoo and local faith leaders work toward reconciliation between the young person and their family of origin. Reunification is the ultimate goal.
Willard said LGBTQ+ youth who experience homelessness are “far more likely to be exploited, trafficked, participate in survival sex work, assaulted or coerced by predators, and lack access to the everyday necessities of life. The neglect of the LGBTQ youth in our community is a travesty.”
The safe, stable housing provided through the Host Homes program provides a lifeline for these at-risk teens. In addition to emotional support, Host Homes families provide day-to-day care for teens for up to six months. In doing so, families create safe havens while teens work on reconciliation with their families of origin or seek out alternative, permanent housing solutions.
Host Homes is looking for capable hosts in the Southwest Michigan area. Willard said hosts support teens across many categories, including routine daily tasks.
“Host families must provide the individual with meals, assist them in daily life, transportation [and] behavioral support,” he said. “Our goal is to create a match between the host family and the teen that is beneficial to both parties involved.”