New program for LGBTQ homeless youth comes to South King County

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded a Special Population Demonstration Project Grant to Auburn Youth Resources (AYR) to help youth who identify as homeless and LGBTQ in South King County.

AYR is one of nine agenices throuought the country to receive the grant.

The new program, named the “ACE Project” (Acceptance, Compassion and Equity), is a transitional housing and life skills program specifically designed to support the needs of homeless LGBTQ identifying youth ages 18-24. The ACE Project will serve eight or more youth over a two-year pilot period. The program will focus on creating a plan for stable housing, employment, developing life skills and mental health support.

“There is a real lack of supports and services in South King County for LGBTQ individuals, especially regarding youth experiencing homelessness. We are so excited for the opportunity to work to specifically meet the needs of this community,” said Nathaniel Thomas, ACE Project lead case manager.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population, making up 27 percent of homeless and runaway youth in King County. Focus groups conducted around this project for the Family and Youth Services Bureau found that many LGBTQ youth were choosing to live on the streets instead of staying at local youth shelters where they didn’t feel comfortable.

The new demonstration projects will have a 24-month period to implement, enhance, or support a framework model to promote the transition of LGBTQ youth from homelessness to self-supporting young adults with stable housing and employment. Additionally, they will work on navigating challenging family relationships since 55 percent of LGBTQ and 67 percent of transgender youth are homeless due to being forced out or running away from home.

With increasing housing costs in the Puget Sound region, the ACE Project acknowledges that living alone is not a realistic option for many young adults today. For this reason, the program will pair two participants together to share a two-bedroom apartment. Throughout the project they will learn the life skills necessary to be successful in a cohabitation setting. The apartments, located in Kent, will be close to Kent Station, Green River College, grocery and convenience stores, and restaurants.

Another pivotal piece of the program requires that participants take an active role in setting and achieving their own goals.

Participants will be required to:

• Participate in case management services

• Set education and/or employment goals and activities

• Work on time management, budgeting, paying bills, writing resumes, completing interviews, networking and relationship building

“AYR’s ACE Project will create the opportunity to provide stable and culturally appropriate transitional housing as well as connect LGBTQ youth to reliable peers and adults in their lives. This is something that most youth do not currently have access to,” said Michelle Hankinson, AYR’s director of Homeless Services.

AYR has already hired staff for the program and plans on launching the ACE Project beginning in 2017.

Since 1973, AYR has been providing services for the low-income and underserved children, youth, and families of South King and North Pierce counties. AYR is an established regional provider of mental health counseling, substance use treatment, and homeless services. Its mission is to restore hope, build futures, and strengthen communities through compassionate programs for youth and families.

Learn more at ayr4kids.org.