LGBT youth pilot program to launch in May

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With the onset of the warm weather, LGBT youth advocates are launching a creative collaboration that seeks to offer teens a safe weekend hangout — and better inform youth providers of the myriad needs of this community.

From 8 p.m.-1 a.m. the first and third Saturdays of the month, beginning May 7, LGBT youth will have the opportunity to visit Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad St., for the Philly Q Spot, a multi-pronged initiative meant to offer youth resources and information, as well as entertainment and social opportunities.

The four-month pilot program is being staged by the Philadelphia Q Consortium, a joint venture of the Dorothy Mann Center at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Foyer of Philadelphia, Educational Justice Coalition, the Council of Relationships and Broad Street Ministry.

Noel Ramirez, health-education program coordinator at the Dorothy Mann Center, said all the participating agencies work to meet different needs of the youth community, and representatives of the organizations recently began talking about combining their efforts at a time when their assistance may be most needed.

“We have a lot of great organizations out there in the city providing services but, whether it’s because of capacity or staff, services usually end by 8 in the evening, and that’s when there are a lot of young people outside without a safe place to go,” Ramirez said. “So we wanted to provide a service where we saw that there was a gap and make sure young people have a safe space to go and somewhere where they can learn about all the resources available to them during the week.”

Ramirez noted youth have few nighttime social opportunities, save Woody’s over-18 Wednesday nights or the Breakfast Club parties, and the Q Spot will provide a space for them to get to know other LGBT youth, watch movies and participate in life-skills activities like cooking.

While the young people may be attracted to the program as a social outlet, they can benefit from a host of vital resources, such as rapid HIV testing, STD screenings, mental-health services, tutoring and professional-development sessions.

Ramirez said the offerings are based on the 2007 citywide LGBT youth needs-assessment, as well as input directly from the young people with whom the cooperating agencies work.

“This is all very pilot-based. We want to see what the young people want and what sorts of services are of interest and are needed,” he said. “We knew they wanted late-night programming but what exactly that consisted of, they weren’t sure and neither were we. So this is a good opportunity to see what works and what’s effective.”

The service providers will pay careful attention to the housing needs of the youth.

When the space closes its doors at 1 a.m., youth with nowhere to go will be referred to Foyer of Philadelphia, which works with the LGBT homeless youth population.

Foyer executive director Leigh Braden said little is known about this community.

“It’s a real difficult thing to hone in on because so many of the youth opt out of services. They largely don’t attend shelters and, if they do, it’s usually very temporary because they often feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in certain shelters,” Braden said, noting that many LGBT youth “couch surf” at houses of friends and relatives, a practice that keeps them from being counted as homeless by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It’s very difficult to get a good profile of an LGBT youth in the city who is homeless and find out what their real needs are and how we as nonprofits can meet those needs.”

In addition to collecting data on the youth, Q Spot will allow Foyer to educate the young people on opportunities available to them, including the agency’s planned winter shelter, expected to launch in December at the Old First United Church of Christ.

At the end of Q Spot’s four-month run, Ramirez said organizers will reconvene and decide in which direction to take the program, which is currently being funded by seed money from Broad Street Ministry.

“We’re going to have to evaluate whether having this every two weeks was best, or it should be once a month, or more than one day of the week. We’ll have to look at how the young people responded to structured activities versus casual activities,” he said. “So there’s going to be a lot of questions that need to be answered so we can determine if this model works and what was effective and what wasn’t.”

Ramirez said he and the other collaborators are eager for the program to get on its feet and are looking forward to a potentially more-connected network of service providers in tune with the needs of local LGBT youth.

“All of the agencies are really excited, and all the feedback has been so positive,” he said. “We’ve been in touch with the Mazzoni Center, The Attic [Youth Center] and Y-HEP [Youth Health Empowerment Project] and people in AIDS service organizations and housing programs, and they’ve all been so supportive and are eager for us to be connecting these youth with them. This is all about reengaging the community and making sure young people are aware of the services that are out there. I can’t wait to find out what happens after the four months, so we can really get working together to have a positive impact on this community.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].