The first few nights weren't so bad. It was on the fourth night, the night it rained, that it got to me. I had just spent the past week sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the Illinois state Capitol building in Springfield. Throughout the week, young people of faith, college students, as well as homeless and formerly homeless youth traveled from Chicago to Springfield. Some slept on the sidewalks at night, and others came solely to lobby their legislators. We were all there for the same reason: Every year nearly 25,000 youth experience homelessness in the state of Illinois. Not only were there not the resources to help these youth, but most legislators and most of the general public didn't even realize the problem existed.
In the past few weeks, I've written about a lot of full-page ads. This full-page ad is different. Too often, homeless youth have been invisible. The Ali Forney Center, a service provider for LGBT homeless youth, has a full-page ad in this month's issue of Sojourners magazine. GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation, connected the Ali Forney Center to Sojourners, as a part of an advertising campaign the Ali Forney Center is running. The ad highlights that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I have talked with many teens who became homeless because they were kicked out of their homes or ran away from abuse by their parents because of their sexual identity. After their homes became dangerous, they went to the streets, where many were attacked and some were trafficked or forced into prostitution.
For years, many state and city governments didn't even have a categorization for homeless youth. It was assumed that young people are either with families or wards of the state and within the foster care system. Before coming to work for Sojourners I worked as an organizer in Chicago, Illinois, and for three years one of my primary campaigns was with homeless youth. We lobbied for resources on a state and local level to ensure that these young people had a safety net, while also working with young people of faith to hold fundraisers for service providers. We worked to make sure that young people who were experiencing or had experienced homelessness had venues to make their voices and stories heard.
Over the next few weeks, God's Politics will post a series of blogs highlighting various aspects of youth homelessness, including more on the challenges, but also the ways forward in Chicago, an interview with the executive director of the Ali Forney Center, and on the connection between youth homelessness and trafficking.
Many thanks to the Ali Forney Center for their ad in Sojourners magazine and the work of GLAAD to help highlight the intersection between Sojourners mission around poverty and this justice issue that disproportionately affects those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.