I’ve been doing a bit of research into the issue of homelessness in my city and have become interested in how to open the general public’s minds to creative solutions to homing people without ghettoizing or marginalizing them. How do we make the task of homing people respectfully everyone’s responsibility? The more I read the more I touch upon a frustrating statistic. Despite the fact we have come so far in Canada on the issue advancing the rights and joyful acceptance of the LGBTQ citizenry, we still find (as study after study shows) that between 25% and a whopping 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ and furthermore they cite it as a main reason they ran away. Now interestingly, the latest studies are showing about 5% of Canadians identify as LGBTQ. I know the common wisdom is that it’s 10%, and that may be, but either way it’s obviously a distinguishing factor for a disproportionate number of homeless youth. Anecdotally there is a good deal of consensus that we live in a time when it’s easier than ever for people to proudly and freely BE who they are, and love who they may …… but that clearly doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.
The kids who are growing up knowing they are gay, or trying to find out about themselves, in families which are not accepting are running away in tragic numbers. Studies show that homeless youth are the most vulnerable of any people living without a home. It’s a slippery slope from that place of running away to adding the many additional challenges and life problems that a person will predictably accumulate living on the streets. And it’s sad; so very sad.
So here’s my idea: Rainbow room families. The deal is to simply place a rainbow sticker on the front door to signal your willingness to help and shelter any young person you know, who feels their sexual orientation or gender identification has left them rejected from their own family. The rules are simple. Any family participating must promise to honour the rights of the child who comes to them, to help, and be a safe place for them share their fears. They must contact the child’s family to let them know their child is safe, and begin the search for professional agencies to assist. In extreme cases they can provide a temporary (or maybe not so temporary) place to stay while the youth attempts reconciliation with their own family or finds a safe new beginning. The child will need to agree to inform their own families of their whereabouts with your assistance, they will need to observe rules of the hosting home (especially if staying for a period of time) like curfews, bedtimes, reasonable chores, finishing at least high school and then working or volunteering, participating in needed therapies or treatments for drugs or emotional issues which may have begun while living with a difficult home life, abstinence from drug abuse, and responsible sexual behaviours. These kids will be YOUR children’s friends, children in your neighbourhood, kids YOU know who would be very well served by a safe place to be when they feel the streets are better than home. It’s the community connection that’s missing, I think ………. The ‘where do you go when you can’t go home’ before the couch surfing with questionable adults, before the shelters, before the streets.
Could a Rainbow room family make the difference? I don’t know. But it seems such a simple place to start to try. I, for one, look at the faces of my son’s friends and my heart breaks thinking about them running away from a safe home just to BE (or try to find) who they are. If our family can be the place they think of before they are lost to despair then I am so happy to be that safe place for as long as they need. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe we need to remind kids the village is there for them. If it’s as simple as a little rainbow sticker to let them know it’s ok, a safe place to say aloud who they are, and a warm bed if needed then that would be wonderful.