One in 10 college-aged youth will face homelessness in the United States each year. Nearly a third of homeless youth have attempted suicide. Youth that fall within the LGBTQ+ spectrum are 120% more likely to be homeless.
The board of directors behind Bloom House Youth Services, Inc. is working hard to address these issues by creating an inclusive space that provides support through access to case management, mental health care and life skills education to ensure an empowered future.
“What we want to do is just to be all-inclusive to every homeless youth,” said Board President Clara Corn. “We don’t want anyone to be turned away. Anyone should be able to come to us. We want to have a welcoming, open door and no nonsense approach and we don’t want any used to be afraid to contact us.”
In 2020, Emporia Public Schools had 69 homeless children listed among its enrolled students. Corn said while that number may seem low, it’s simply unacceptable. And, it may not be entirely accurate.
“Homeless youth are hard to track; they slip through the cracks in the mainstream for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Sometimes they might be afraid of coming forward and finding a place. Some of them may feel like they’ve not been welcomed in other shelters or they’ve been to some that are more exclusive and have a more specific list of who they’re serving.”
Under the Trump administration, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development overturned a 2012 ruling put in place during the Obama administration that stated gender-specific shelters couldn’t turn away people who are transgender. Corn said there are already shelters that can turn away individuals who fall into the LGBTQ+ spectrum or may not be genuinely welcoming.
While she expects some of that may change again under President Joe Biden, Corn said the Bloom House Board of Directors want to create a space where every knows they are welcome.
The board of directors is made up of individuals from Emporia, Wichita, Tulsa and Kansas City. The diversity in population is important, she said, because of the availability of resources in those specific areas.
“There are inclusive, LGBTQ-friendly, very outwardly LGBTQ-friendly shelters in Tulsa and Kansas City — and not in between,” Corn said. “I’m not saying that there aren’t LGBTQ-friendly youth shelters, but if they are here in Kansas, they are not making it really obvious. And that’s specific to homelessness.”
“We’re going to be open to all and want to be very clearly LGBTQ-friendly — we’re not a shelter for only LGBTQ — but we want to make that really obvious that they know that there is space for them when there are so many shelters who turn them away,” she said.
Some shelters also have very specific criteria about how people can receive help. While SOS, Inc., is LGBTQ+ friendly, for example, those women and children needing shelter have to be victims of domestic violence in order to receive assistance.
Corn said the goal for 2021 is to open Bloom House’s 24/7, fully staffed drop-in center. Originally, the board had hoped to have that center up and running already, but COVID-19 slowed a lot of that progress down.
The drop-in center is modeled after the Basic Center Program through the Federal Youth Services Bureau, which is the agency through which Bloom House is seeking funding. Corn said they are working on writing grants for the spring grant cycle now for what she admits is a somewhat “ambitious” project.
“It’s a really ambitious project, but I think I’m an ambitious person,” she said with a laugh. “And it’s needed, so we’re just gonna go full steam ahead. I want to have case management and mental health. We want to have a calm space where they can just go and be on their own without even have to go to a therapist, where they can just chill. We want to have a resource room with computers, so they can use the Internet to do whatever they need to do — whether it is job searching, working a resume or online classes or what have you.”
The center will also have a laundry room, a kitchen and food pantry and a clothes closet.
Ideally, it will also be set up for short-term stays for emergency situations. Transitional housing will come a little further down the road.
Corn said Bloom House is establishing relationships with local organizations to keep a list of needed resources on education, job placement, substance abuse counseling and more.
She encourages other agencies who are interested in working with Bloom House to reach out as well.