BreakOUT! members long ago recognized that transgender, gender non-conforming, and queer youth of color experience high rates of homelessness in New Orleans (and make up between 40-50% of homeless youth nationwide), leading to increased criminalization through “quality of life” policing, curfew laws, and actual or perceived involvement in survival crimes or street economies.
In fact, in 2014 BreakOUT! released a report called We Deserve Better: A report about policing in New Orleans by and for queer and trans youth of color, in which LGBTQ youth were surveyed about their experiences with policing in New Orleans. When asked the question “What would make LGBTQ youth safer in New Orleans?” 59% of LGBTQ youth surveyed identified housing as a priority for a safer New Orleans, followed by education at 47%. (72% identified jobs as the answer while only 16% responded solving crime and more police.)
In a city with approximately 6,500 individuals without a home, New Orleans’ rate of homelessness in one of the highest in the nation. Across the country, between 40 and 50% of homeless youth are LGBTQ- and with so many LGBTQ youth of color fleeing to the city from neighboring parishes, it is likely that the numbers may be even higher in New Orleans. And yet, the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, released in 2011 by the City of New Orleans, makes no mention of LGBTQ youth or adults and the city has only 1 youth shelter.
For nearly 30 years, the only shelter serving youth in the entire city of New Orleans, Covenant House of New Orleans, which serves 2,497 youth per year, has suffered from a reputation in the New Orleans LGBTQ youth community as being unwelcoming of LGBTQ young people. Even with an open and affirming administration, stories about the mistreatment of queer and trans youth plagued the shelter and made many young people choose the streets or motels over the shelter.
Part of a larger, systemic problem at the decades old Catholic-based provider, Covenant House New York has been under fire in the past few years as well as Covenant House Houston and several other locations for the mistreatment of LGBTQ youth.
Today, on #40ToNoneDay, a national day focused on raising awareness about LGBTQ youth homelessness, BreakOUT! is excited to announce our work to make the city’s only youth shelter a more affirming space for LGBTQ youth residents through the adoption of a policy to ensure the respectful treatment of LGBTQ youth, including housing youth according to gender identity and using the correct names and pronouns for transgender young people.
In line with BreakOUT!’s value of honoring the leadership of young people as the experts on what they need, a large part of the project is bridging the gap between the staff of Covenant House and the LGBTQ youth residents themselves. BreakOUT! is also building a relationship with the youth residents through bi-monthly meetings to build their power to successfully advocate for their needs and help transform Covenant House into a truly safe and affirming environment for all young people.
BreakOUT! Outreach Coordinator, Ja’Leah Shavers, who has been leading the work at BreakOUT! said, “We are excited about the steps Covenant House is taking to become a more affirming agency for LGBTQ youth, but the real victory will come when all LGBTQ youth in the city of New Orleans have a place to call home at night and are no longer facing laws that increasingly marginalize and criminalize us, including laws that criminalize young people in survival economies and the sex trade. BreakOUT! won’t stop until we have achieved this vision.”
In addition to working with BreakOUT!, Covenant House New Orleans will benefit from a partnership between Covenant House International and True Colors Fund to strengthen programs for LGBTQ youth at each of their locations.
Interested in training at your agency?
Although services were donated in-kind to Covenant House as part of a larger campaign goal, BreakOUT! also provides LGBTQ training on a sliding scale fee for youth-serving agencies throughout New Orleans. For more information, please contact us by email or call us at (504) 252-9025.