Jordan Chris tears up when he talks about being homeless this past spring. For one week, Chris, 23, lived in his Toyota Camry after his girlfriend kicked him out of her apartment.
Transgender and nearly deaf since birth, he never felt safe enough to sleep more than two to three hours at a time in his car. The batteries of his hearing aids weren't reliable, adding to his fear of a stranger seeing him through the car windows and attacking him as he slept. Chris felt so hopeless he wanted to end his life.
"It really hit a point for me where it was so emotionally damaging that I was incredibly suicidal," he said. "I think at that point, I couldn't do it anymore."
Chris had struggled to find a permanent place to live since he was 16. Starting at that age, the then-female Chris' mom would repeatedly kick her out of the house for being a lesbian, and then take her back. Chris moved out for good at 17 and came out as transgender. When he was 18, he attended support-group sessions at Time Out Youth, a Charlotte-based nonprofit organization that advocates, supports and provides emergency-shelter services for LGBT youth. But he never considered applying for Time Out's temporary housing services until this past spring.
This year, Time Out Youth has seen a 419-percent increase in homeless LGBT youth needing temporary shelter in Charlotte. The organization provided 426 nights of housing for homeless LGBT youth compared to 82 nights last year. While it is investigating the reason for this dramatic rise, program and services director Laurie Pitts offers a possible explanation: While today's LGBT youth feel more comfortable coming out at younger ages — 16 was the average in 2010 versus 25 in 1991, according to a study in Science Daily — their parents may not have caught up.
"We're in the South, and sometimes it takes families a while to get used to the idea," Pitts said.
Founded by Tonda Taylor in Charlotte in 1991, Time Out Youth offers group counseling and education for 11- to 20-year-olds who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The organization also offers a Host Home Program, in which LGBT youth between 18 and 20 temporarily live with accepting families or individuals until they find permanent housing.
Executive director Rodney Tucker found Chris sleeping in his car and had Pitts scramble to find the young man immediate housing. At the time, the organization also housed young adults. Time Out's friends at the VanLandingham Estate on the Plaza let Chris stay in a suite for one week. Then, Pastor Nancy Kraft of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which houses Time Out's office and meeting area, agreed to host Chris for three months. Volunteer Shelly DeLux, a corporate trainer, provided him with emotional support.
"Sometimes somebody just needs to be accepted," DeLux said. "They need to be in a place, need to have an environment where they can come home and know they're accepted for who they are."
This December, the age gap for youth eligible for the Host Home Program is changing from 18-23 to 18-20 to plan better programming for youth that are closer in age, Pitts said. People 21-25 are accepted into the Host Home Program depending on space availability and need. Those between 11-17 can stay at two non-LGBT temporary shelters that partner with Time Out Youth.
LGBT youth account for nearly 40 percent of homeless young people and are at a higher risk of assault and violence. About 46 percent of these youth ran away from home and 43 percent were forced to leave because their parents rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity. Male-to-female transgender youth are especially at risk for assault if placed in all-male homeless shelters. North Carolina does not have a brick-and-mortar all-LGBT shelter — the closest are in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta — and non-LGBT shelters can be dangerous.
"[The shelter needs] to put them where they self-identify," said Nyaka NiiLampti, a Charlotte-based psychologist who works mostly with clients ages 18 to 21. "They end up waging this war internally for those basic needs — a warm bed and shelter and a roof over their head — but at the same time they may put themselves in a position where they're going to be picked on or physically or sexually victimized."
While Chris stayed with Pastor Kraft, he learned how to mow grass, cook dinner for himself and manage his money. He now shares a permanent home with his best friend and is a security guard at a downtown museum. While he doubts his mom will ever talk to him again, he said he can always find family at Time Out.
"These people love me unconditionally," Chris said. "It's all I've ever asked for. I've never asked for anything in my life from my mother or father but just love and acceptance."
Time Out Youth event
Emergency Housing Host Home information session for potential housing providers on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. at 1900 The Plaza, in the basement of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. For more information or to volunteer, call 704-344-8335 or visit www.timeoutyouth.org.
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