On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic due to COVID—19, the viral disease that is affecting many countries throughout the world. As a result, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning) communities all over the United States are facing challenges, especially those who are homeless. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation published a research brief recently that indicates that 17% of LGBTQ people lack health coverage, 1 in 5 LGBTQ people live in poverty, and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
According to literature published by the National Coalition for the Homeless in June 2017, members of the LGBTQ community often face discrimination in many areas of their lives, especially in terms of housing. Approximately 19% of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. In the transgender adult population, of those who tried to access a shelter, 55% were harassed by a shelter staff or resident, 22% were sexually assaulted by shelter staff or a resident, and 29% were denied access to the shelter.
Several nonprofit organizations in California are ensuring that the needs of the LGBTQ populations are being met, even during the COVID—19 pandemic. One organization based in San Francisco, Larkin Street Youth Services provides housing, education, and employment resources to support young people who are homeless in the age range of 12 to 24 years. According to their website, since 1984 they have provided more than 75,000 young people a safe place to rebuild their lives.
Christopher Rodriguez who is the program manager for one of Larkin Street’s housing programs, Castro Youth Housing Initiative (CYHI), stated that they are currently housing 38 transitional youth at his site. Even during this pandemic, Rodriguez reports to work daily as he oversees CYHI. Throughout the year, they focus on goal-oriented activities, require the youth to save part of their income, and encourage them to participate in career-building courses.
During this pandemic, the staff members at Larkin Street Youth Services are working closely with the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to follow health protocols such as handwashing, usage of sanitizers and monitoring symptoms. “The biggest challenge for us is that we work in small houses, so it is difficult to practice social distancing,” Rodriguez said. “The other challenge is to ensure clients stay indoors all the time. Most of the time, the LGBTQ communities don’t have support networks that others have so it’s difficult to not visit people within their networks.”
According to Rodriguez, while his program focuses on youth services, they work closely with several like-minded organizations throughout the state and across the nation. Even during this pandemic these collaborations continue and have been even more meaningful as everyone is trying to figure out how to help each other.
Miliana Singh, who is the health care and transgender services coordinator at the LGBTQ Center Orange County, mentioned that 95% of the people they serve identify as LGBTQ. The mission of the Orange County center is to advocate on behalf of the local LGBTQ community and to provide services that ensure their well-being and positive identity. The organization provides a multitude of client services, such as linkage to medical care, and referrals to housing resources and legal services. According to Tony Viramontes, the director of health and prevention services, the center works closely with partners in the community that they have collaborated with for many years.
“Due to the COVID—19 pandemic, the center is closed,” Viramontes said. “However, our clients still need services, so we provide most of the services through an online platform. These services include support groups, youth groups, and community groups, among many others.” Viramontes stated that one of the challenges they face during this time is to engage with all their clients in the community. Some clients do not feel comfortable with technology, so they have not been able to access the web-based services. Even then, the Orange County center has been able to connect with many of their clients and provide services accordingly. Viramontes added, “Our main priority is the health and well-being of our clients and staff. Therefore, we follow the state and government’s guidelines on when to open up the center.”
Another organization, Laura’s House also located in Orange County, provides emergency shelter to people who are affected by domestic violence. According to Andrew Guerrero, a specialist in the Prevention Education Department, it’s particularly difficult for those who identify as LGBTQ to seek assistance when they face violence due to the history of discrimination they might have faced. In times of pandemic, when they are required to shelter in place, it is even more difficult to access services. Therefore, the staff members at Laura’s House are continuously providing tele-health services to all their clients.
Laura’s House has a confidential hotline (1-866-498-1511) that accepts calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and connects the callers directly to the staff members. According to Guerrero there are many organizations that offer similar free and confidential support services like Laura’s House does. To find an organization in their respective area, people who are experiencing domestic violence, questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship, or seeking resources can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233), which will connect and provide information regarding available organizations all over the country.
“Even during this pandemic in our country while most of the workers are working remotely, staff members are monitoring the hotline since we still receive many phone calls,” Guerrero said. “Those who answer the calls are trained in connecting the callers to resources and guiding them to obtain necessary services such as therapy.
During the COVID—19 pandemic, it is pertinent to focus on the LGBTQ community and ensure they have enough resources and partnerships. Organizations such as Larkin Street Youth Services, LGBTQ Center Orange County and Laura’s House are working hard to ensure their clients’ needs are addressed in California. Similarly, other organizations throughout the country are doing the same. Due to the long-term effects of this pandemic, my hope is that communities, organizations and government agencies will continue to work closely to address the needs of the LGBTQ community even months after this pandemic is over.
Larkin Street Youth Services can be accessed via https://larkinstreetyouth.org/.
LGBTQ Center Orange County can be accessed via https://www.lgbtqcenteroc.org/about/.
Laura’s House can be accessed via https://www.laurashouse.org/. For client services, text HEART to 949-484-8440.