WACO, Texas — Youth homelessness is a prevalent issue in the U.S., including in Central Texas and among that group, LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness.
There are several organizations locally that are working together to end youth homelessness. While there are more resources now than in years past, local leaders believe there should be more awareness, especially for those who may not feel accepted.
Talor Donaldson was homeless on and off for 10 years.
"My personal experience with homelessness began around age 16 or 17," Donaldson said.
Now Donaldson works as a peer support specialist at the Dobey Drop-In Center in Waco providing mentorship, guidance and emotional support to others who are experiencing the same thing.
"The environment at home wasn't feeling safe for me. It seems like I was more capable of creating a safe environment for myself at that age. Of course I had no idea how to navigate systems," Donaldson said.
Donaldson identifies as LGBTQ. It's estimated that about 7% of youth in the United States are part of the LGBTQ community, but make up about 40% of youth homelessness.
According to True Colors United, a non-profit addressing the issue of youth homelessness in the U.S., family conflict is the most common cause. While rejection can lead to LGBTQ youth experiencing housing instability, there are other reasons, like aging out of the foster care system, poverty and conflict in the home. Often times it's a combination of many things.
In Central Texas, several organizations are working together to help connect youth to services.
"Over the past two years we've actually been developing a youth system for ending youth homelessness. It was started by us getting funding from HUD through the youth homelessness demonstration program and we gather all the partners together to develop a plan," Nicole Wiscombe said, the YHDP Director at Klaras Center for Families of the Heart of Texas Region MHMR Center and the chair of the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition.
"Myself being someone that is part of the LGBTQ community, the struggles I faced growing up in a very conservative community and not being able to be out and open with my community," Wiscombe said. "And so bringing my own stories and the stories of my peer support specialist has been so gratifying."
Wiscombe said peer support specialists like Donaldson have been instrumental.
"Through the sort of darkness of my experience that I have sort of a light that I can share with people who are going through what I had to go through," Donaldson said.
They both believe as a society, we are moving in the right direction but there's always room to grow.
"Life is changing here. Being a visibly trans person in Temple is not as hard as I thought it would be. For the most part, everyone is kind to my face. For the most part," Victoria Brumbaugh said, a Temple resident and board member of Waco Pride Network.
The non-profit organization aims to provide a safe space and support for people in the LGBTQ community. Brumbaugh is also the parent of an LGBTQ youth and she has a message of acceptance.
"The best thing you can do is to love them and accept them. Teach them that they are worthy of being loved and I know it's hard. It is so hard when your child comes out to you no matter who you are and what you think you are ready for, but that's just your job is to roll with the punches and be the best parent you can be," Brumbaugh said.
All of them are working alongside each other to create more safe spaces for all youth no matter how they identify.
"No one has to be homeless as a child because they're LGBTQ+," Brumbaugh said.
"What really matters is that we are getting people in roofs over people's heads at the end of the day," Donaldson said.
"Let's be open and accepting. Let's open our arms and make sure we're taking care of the youth in our community. However they identify, whoever they are, I think the most important thing is to meet them where they are at and help them succeed," Wiscombe said.
Heart of Texas MHMR: https://www.hotrmhmr.org/
The Cove Heart of Texas: http://www.thecovewaco.org/
Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition: http://www.heartoftexashomeless.org/
True Colors United: https://truecolorsunited.org/
Covenant House: https://www.covenanthouse.org/