In an interview with NBC News, 23-year-old Nez Marquez says finding a safe place to shelter has been anything but easy. Born in Mexico and raised in New York, Marquez has been homeless for five years. After his family was unable to accept his sexual orientation and gender identity, Marquez left the family home at the age of eighteen.
Marquez currently resides in Sylvia’s Place, an emergency shelter for LGBTQ+ young adults in a Manhattan church. He emphasizes that shelters specifically aimed at young people within the LGBTQ+ community are much safer, because he previously experienced homophobic violence in regular homeless shelters. These days however, the homeless Marquez has more concerns than anti-gay violence and the inherent dangers of living on the streets: COVID-19.
“I've been worried about not having housing,” Marquez said in his interview with NBC News. “If where I'm staying shuts down, I'll be out of options.” Not only is he worried about being “forced to live in a homophobic environment,” but he also lives with an innate lung condition, thus falling within the risk group regarding Covid-19.
LGBTQ+ youth and adolescents, such as Marquez, make up a large number of the homeless youth within the United States. With nationwide shutdowns of schools and youth programs, reduced office hours in LGBTQ+ community centres and (for many of them) unsupportive family members, these young Americans and the organizations that serve them are being forced to find new ways to get support and offer support.
LGBTQ+ adults make up an estimated 4.5% of the U.S. population, but recent studies have found that 20% to 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. Among young adults (ages 18 to 25), LGBTQ + people appear to be 2.2 times more at risk of homelessness. These figures come from a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law.
The New York City LGBT Community Center, which closed its doors in the midst of the pandemic, does offer a number of remote services. Among other things, individual counselling sessions, twelve-step programs and social youth programs are offered. Likewise, the Los Angeles LGBT Center cancelled all nonessential meetings and limited its youth programs to lunch services and critical needs while the residential centre remains open.
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