Abraham Tomo, Jr. wants everyone to think about how it would feel during the winter to be a homeless LGBTQ youth or elder in Center City, North Philly, Kensington, West Philly or South Philly. He wants folks to give what they can to that person.
Tomo, 29, is an HIV prevention specialist at Colours — an organization that provides health and human services to LGBTQ people of color — and he has been thinking about homeless LGBTQ people for months after meeting homeless youth in the summer and engaging in homeless outreach. But when a woman came to Colours looking for housing, then returned a couple of weeks later asking for a blanket for the shelter where she had found a bed, Tomo knew he could do something immediate and for others in similar situations.
“I was able to get a blanket for her,” Tomo said. “But then I was thinking about what else is needed and for whom.”
The result is a Winter Necessities Drive sponsored by Colours on Dec. 21 from noon to 4 p.m. at the William Way LGBT Community Center.
Colours was established in 1991 by and for Black LGBT people. The organization focuses on the social justice issues of LGBT people of color, including HIV transmission and acquisition, homelessness and much more. Free HIV testing will be available at the donation drive.
“Our goal is at least 100 coats,” Tomo said. “And we need jeans, pants, scarves, hats, gloves, socks.” Tomo is also hoping to put together hygiene kits.
The drive is not just a personal mission for Tomo, it’s a mission he believes the whole LGBTQ community would be involved in if they realized the extent of the problem of LGBTQ homelessness and shelter insecurity. He hopes to do more than secure donations of coats and clothes; he wants to raise awareness of a critical issue for the LGBTQ community that disproportionately impacts Black and other people of color in Philadelphia.
Raising awareness for Colours’ in the community, is another of Tomo’s goals, particularly after the staff was cut in half at the end of the fiscal year in September. Tomo said Colours is still very much alive, and he is advocating for the organization and the most vulnerable LGBTQ people.
“If you haven’t experienced it — homelessness — it’s not something you necessarily think about,” Tomo said, adding, “no one is born homeless. It’s something that happens to people for so many reasons — taxes lead to a lien on a property, job loss leads to using up all your savings. But for queer people, it’s often because they have been rejected by their families, and they have nowhere else to turn.”
Tomo said most of us never consider “a roof over our heads or a bed to sleep in a luxury. But for so many people, it is. They are lucky if they have a couch to sleep on two or three nights. But that insecurity of not having a place to live — we have to address that.”
Tomo said he was fortunate that as an out gay teen, he didn’t have that experience. “I actually do have a privilege that I wasn’t kicked out. I don’t know what that life is,” he said.
As a leader in his high school “and the only out person in my class,” he was able to speak about the issues facing LGBTQ youth at a young age, because of his role in student government.
“Growing up queer is difficult across the board,” Tomo explained. “Being a Black person, how being Black impacts being queer, how they intersect — that can be even more difficult.” And for some, he explained, homelessness is a result. Survival sex can become a necessity for LGBTQ youth, and it can lead to HIV and other STIs.
Tomo said, “It hurts my soul” that people “put a narrative” on the homeless, that they are mentally ill or have substance abuse issues.
“That’s a reason to reach out and get help for people, not reject them,” he says. “We punish the poor. We blame the poor. We have to help people who are suffering.”
Tomo said, “I have a place to sleep; I eat every day. Many people don’t.” He said he has been through lean times when he wouldn’t have been able to give a dollar to someone on the street, but he said we can all share what we have when we have it. He hopes that people will do what they can for the Colours drive.
“This is our community. All of us,” he said. “We want to do our best for each other.”
Bring new or clean, gently used coats and other clothing to the drive Sat. Dec. 21, noon to 4 p.m. 1315 Spruce St.