Finding Our Way Home: How Avenues For Youth Helps LGBTQ+ Kids Stay Off The Streets

Group shot of the Avenues for Youth ConneQT 20 Year Anniversary Party
Photo courtesy of Sarah Williams/Avenues for Youth

Alarmingly, nearly 40% of youth experiencing homelessness in the U.S. identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. But even with this startling statistic showing that almost half of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, there’s still a huge lack of LGBTQ+-specific housing programs. That’s where the Minneapolis-based ConneQT Host Home Program of Avenues for Youth comes in.

Author of No House to Call My Home: Love, Family and Other Transgressions about LGBTQI Youth Homelessness, and Program Manager of ConneQT, Ryan Berg (he/him), says “Avenues for Youth is based in Minneapolis, with organization-operated houses located in North Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park. We partner with youth ages 16-24. In addition, Avenues supports youth in community-based settings located throughout the Twin Cities through the ConneQT Host Home and the Young Families housing programs.” Basically, these programs work to match homeless LGBTQ+ youth with a host family in the community to provide food and shelter, along with support, to youth in need. Then Avenue provides “wrap-around services and support like building independent living skills, financial literacy support, mental health support, and [they] help work on the youth’s personal goals. Those goals are typically around long-term stable housing, employment and education.” With a community-based program like ConnectQT in place, LGBTQ+ youth have a much better chance of not only surviving, but thriving. According to Berg, The ConneQT Host Home program “plays a crucial role in providing a lifeline for LGBTQI+ youth, particularly trans youth who find themselves without a safe and stable place to call home when they come to Minnesota seeking refuge.

You might be wondering: how does something like ConneQT actually work? Berg explains, “Youth determination is at the center of our process when matching youth with hosts. In ConneQT, youth get to read the applications of hosts (in each application hosts write an open letter describing who they are and why they want to host) and the youth get to decide who they’d like to meet. After the youth makes this decision, a series of ‘meet and greets’ are scheduled. These meetings are an integral part of the intentional matching process hosts and youth partake in in order to assure an affirming and sustainable living arrangement for both.” By allowing the youth to have their own agency and decision-making ability in this process, everyone involved feels empowered to take charge of their lives. And Berg also notes that this isn’t an act of charity from the community members offering youth a place in their homes. ConneQT is driven by a philosophy of solidarity instead. Berg says “we believe that communities can thrive when we share our resources from the perspective of ‘us and us’ and not ‘us and them.’”

Berg shared one of his favorite success stories from ConneQT: a story about one of their home hosts, Clara and her prospective youth match, R. With nerves on both sides, Clara and R met to speak about potentially living with each other. Clara’s three-legged Labrador, Holly, and R’s adorable emotional support dog, Mocha, immediately hit it off. From there, the nervous tension of meeting each other eased, and the two “fell into a natural conversation that started with their love of their dogs, then migrated to topics like their mutual love of making art, interest in neuroscience and desire to meet the personal goals they’ve set for themselves.” Berg commented on the ease and flow of their conversation, saying “Typically, my role in these meetings is to gently suggest topics of conversation, to ask questions that help flesh out a better understanding of how this potential living situation could look. The ConneQT team wants to create an opportunity for both prospective host and youth to glean what they need about the other person and the environment to truly envision what life would look like living together. With Clara and R, I rarely needed to steer the conversation or suggest topics. They sat across from each other, sipping tea, the fire in the background, and fell into conversations about their daily routines, and what it would mean to share space and their lives as housemates.” It’s connections like these that demonstrate the power that comes from ConneQT being based on solidarity and community, rather than charity. This is why ConneQT works.

Berg continues with the success story “Fast forward to today: R has now lived with Clara in ConneQT for six months. This past semester, R was on the Dean’s List at their community college and they are transferring to a four-year institution next semester. They are working and saving money and dreaming about the next chapter of their life… R said being accepted for who they are and being a part of something has made all the difference in the world.” Community and resources can truly make a situation that had once seemed impossible to achieve into a reality.

Programs like ConneQT are particularly important right now. With so much anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, specifically targeting trans children and adults in many cases, more and more youth are finding themselves in need of community assistance. Berg says “Being part of the LGBTQ+ community, I understand firsthand the challenges and struggles that LGBTQ+ youth face, including homelessness and discrimination. This personal connection fuels my passion and commitment to creating a program that not only provides housing but also affirms and supports the identities of the youth it serves. My identity allows me to bring empathy, understanding, and cultural responsiveness to my role, ensuring that the program meets the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth in Minnesota.” When the LGBTQ+ community comes together, it is truly an unstoppable force for good.

Avenues for Youth is so proud to help support queer youth in their pursuit of their goals towards a better life. It’s a beautiful thing to watch your community thrive, and even more beautiful to actively work together to make it happen.

If you want to learn more about Avenues for Youth or the ConneQT Home Host program, you can check out their website at www.avenuesforyouth.org

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