Having lived on the streets as a queer youth, Jackie Sandberg says she’s all too familiar with the hate crimes inflicted on the city’s disproportionately LGBTQ homeless population. Unfortunately, Sandberg says the situation isn’t much better when she and others seek refuge inside the city’s shelters.
“So much of what holds us back is not having a place where we feel completely safe,” Sandberg said at the recent LGBTQ violence forum at Capitol Hill’s All Pilgrims Church. “A LGBTQ youth shelter is an essential step to saving youth from experiencing the level of hatred and indifference that we currently do.”
Creating a city-funded queer youth shelter in the neighborhood was one of the most concrete ideas to emerge from the forum. The idea was roundly applauded throughout the evening and in her closing remarks, council member Kshama Sawant vowed to fight for city funding to make it happen.
“Often, queer youth experience harassment at shelters,” Sawant told CHS. “It’s a serious enough question that elected officials should be exploring.”
It’s early still for any real plan to create a shelter or somehow transform existing shelters to better address the needs of the homeless queer community. Sawant said the next step for her will be to gather more ideas.
One place to look is Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets. This year, the 19th Ave community center used city funding to open a small number of shelter beds through mid-April. The shelter admits anyone between the ages of 18-29, and executive director Susan Fox said PSKS strives to make the space as safe as possible for queer youth. PSKS has a queer youth internship program, a transgendered support group, and has LGBTQ staff members.
When it comes to the question of creating a new queer youth shelter on Capitol Hill, Fox said the people accessing those services should be the ones to give the answers. In the meantime, she said the limited number of beds means organizations should be as inclusive as possible.
“We serve a variety of people of different races and genders, and I can’t really use the shelter to exclude people we include,” she said. “Whoever has shelter beds should make them as open and welcoming as possible.”
A queer-specific youth shelter may gain some traction this year through the 30-member panel recently convened by Mayor Ed Murray to address LGBTQ violence. Aside from PSKS, the only other youth shelter near Capitol Hill is the James W. Ray Orion Center at the base of the hill on Denny Way.
As it has begun meeting this week, another idea the task force will discuss is the creation of an LGBTQ community center, most likely on Capitol Hill. Supporters say Seattle is one of the few metropolitan areas without one. Ideas for an LGBTQ center have been around for years, most recently some have pushed to have a center be a part of the development that will surround Capitol Hill Station.
“For a city that has lead the way on activism and gay rights, it’s not right that we don’t have an LGBT community center,” Sawant said.