Runaways on a Road to Nowhere

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Drove by the beach on the way to work today.

Nice breeze, blue oceans, clear skies, and beautiful hotels now gracing the skyline of Fort Lauderdale. But what I am overlooking?

This week, SFGN correspondent Christiana Lilly has a featured piece on a new documentary, “A Road to Home,” taking a look at LGBT homelessness. Sadly, it’ s a story that has been told year in and year out, for decades and decades.

Years ago, South Florida beaches were populated with runaway kids, living in bushes with no place to go. The story drew national attention. In the 1970s, Geraldo Rivera even did a national feature on ABC’s ‘Nightline’ about homeless youth in Fort Lauderdale.

WSVN Television, even a powerhouse back then, won a Green Eyeshades Award for outstanding journalism by featuring an outstanding segment on the issue, put together by Carmel Cafiero, today still a top journalist and consumer affairs reporter. It illuminated the truth that many of the runaways were homosexual youths staying alive by selling their bodies on street corners.

Congressman Alcee Hastings, even then a progressive juvenile court judge, conducted public hearings in the Broward County Courthouse, coordinated with child advocacy groups, in order to get a handle on the problem, and expose it to public review. Community leaders- happy to say I was one of them- came together to fight for a runaway shelter on the Fort Lauderdale Beach. Though there was lots of opposition from local businesses afraid the sharks would scare off tourists, we got our way.

Eventually, Covenant House opened for runaway youths on the Fort Lauderdale Beach. Today, their facility still stands under the shadow of new and spectacular rising hotels. The beach survived. Many kids have not.

The sun that tans also burns. Kids that cruise the beach often wind up not on surfboards, but wandering aimlessly with no purpose. Many LGBT youth find themselves so situated. It is not a pretty picture. For them, the beach is full of blisters not sunbathers.

The problems we faced yesterday we face again today. As Joni Mitchell says in her song, ‘ life is a circle game, and the seasons, they go round and round.’ Sometimes, the sun blinds you to what is really happening, but the issues of teenage prostitution, homelessness, and runaways are recurring. We simply provide salve on the wounds. There is always more to be done.

To its credit, this week, the National LGBTQ Task Force and the True Colors Fundlaunched a collaborative resource for advocates working to support LGBT youth experiencing homelessness.

“At the Intersections,” is a new online resource guide written by 47 contributors. It is a comprehensive guide for advocates, policy makers, service providers, and funders working to end homelessness among LGBT youth.

The first-of-its-kind online publication highlights innovative approaches to supporting youth experiencing homelessness, provides case studies of replicable and successful models, as well as concrete solutions to ending LGBT youth homelessness.

“Close to 40 percent of youth that experience homelessness identify as LGBTQ,” said Meghan Maury, National LGBTQ Task Force’s Criminal and Economic Justice Project Director. “There are many factors that contribute to LGBTQ youth homelessness, including family rejection, abuse, aging out of foster care, economic hardship, bullying and school harassment,” she added.

Our beach is beautiful. Palm trees sway back and forth in the breeze, but so too do lives hang in the balance for homeless LGBT youth. In a month or so, hundreds of thousands of tourists and South Florida residents will crowd the beach for our spectacular air and sea show. It’s an amazing visual tour of American power and might.

As we are looking up at the stars and stripes, we can’t forget about all those people still stuck in spider webs here on the sands, where every turn becomes another trap. Let’ s not worry so much about trade deals with China. Let’s worry about getting America’ s children security and safety here at home.

Find some time to watch the documentary‘ A Road to Home’ this week. The film recently won the monthly film contest at the Miami Independent Film Festival. It’s not just a film, though. It’s about life, full of scars and strife, and maybe on the side of the shore we don’t always see.

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