Fort Lauderdale residents Patrick Stephens and Chad Faulkner are launching an initiative fostering the welfare and well-being of homeless, disenfranchised, gay youth. The Teen Awareness Group (TAG) just finished its business plan and is seeking 501 (C) (3) status. Currently it’s building exposure in the community and trying to discern the immediate needs of the kids.
The most apparent issues are lack of housing, education, medical care, and the widespread drug abuse among these kids. However, according to Stephens, many of these kids are harder to work with because they are often ashamed of being homeless, and conceal it.
“Our agency targets runaway and throw-away gay youth,” said Stephens, the TAG’s executive director. “Particularly gay youth between foster care and adulthood. We were going to do ages 14 through 20, but due to legal red-tape we are going to concentrate on kids that are emancipated from their parents. The Florida criteria for emancipated youth is 16 years of age, seeking work and a place to live.”
As a youth, Stephens himself was homeless, and diagnosed with HIV at the age of 16. Therefore, he knows what the kids are going through, and that many are not aware of what services are available to them. Stephens and Faulkner have already spoken to about 30 local, teenage, LGBT runaways in Fort Lauderdale.
“We found some kids off of Sunrise and Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale,” said Stephens. “They were between the ages of 16 and 18, and were doing sex work. We put them in touch with Covenant and Camilla’s House.”
In addition to his own life experiences, Stephens, who has a degree in public health, has worked with the City of San Francisco to combat HIV and AIDS. He also worked at Berkley doing confidential HIV testing, and with the City of San Francisco City Health Department Planning Council.
“That organization allocated which government funds went to which non-profit groups, and we analyzed where the funds were going, how they were being used,” said Stephens. “I also worked with the Tenderloin AIDS Project. During that time we did a lot of street outreach, we walked outside and gathered our data right there.”
Stephens said that, by offering the kids a free meal, they were able to get them inside to talk, take surveys, and learn exactly what they were doing to survive. Given the weather, and the large population of gay men, Fort Lauderdale is an attractive destination for homeless youth. Stephens and Faulkner wish to get enough funds to purchase a transitional house that will serve as the kids’ home and address on a long-term basis.
“We want the housing to be long-term, since we want them to come in with health insurance. Under the Runaway Homeless Youth Act they can get Medicare,” Stephens said.
In addition to healthcare, staying in the transitional house will provide the kids with an address, and thus a school district in which to attend classes. The teenagers are also eligible for a stipend if they further their education, which will benefit the organization housing them.
Right now, however, Stephens and Faulkner just need your support. They have already partnered with the GLCC Pride Center, who will assist them with their first fundraiser, which they hope to have finalized before the fall.
“We are actively seeking donations for our development, as this empowerment program is desperately needed here in South Florida,” said Chad Faulkner. “Right now we are developing our website to have a donation link. Until that is operational, the best way to provide us with support is to contract Patrick Stephens or myself.”
According to Statistics, Compiled by the Broward County Sheriff’s Department
- Studies show that homeless LGBT youth (ages 12-24) are at a higher risk for victimization and suffer higher rates of mental health problems and unsafe sexual behavior then than straight homeless youth.
- A homeless LGBT youth is more likely to attempt suicide (62 percent) than a straight homeless peer (29 percent)
- Different studies of homeless youth in the U.S. have concluded that approximately 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. This is disproportionately high when compared to 10 percent of GLBT youth in the general population.
- Youth interviewed consistently report family conflict as the primary reason for their homelessness. LGBT youth report double the rates of sexual abuse before age 12.
- Discharge and emancipation from foster care is a big contributor to youth homelessness. Studies show that 12 to 36 percent of emancipated foster care youth will report to being homeless at least once after discharge from care.
If you wish to learn more about TAG, visit Teenawarenessgroup.com or call 1-800-742-9169.