ANCHOR builds bridges for young adults in Tucson’s LGBTQ Community

click to enlarge Ian Ellasante, program and evaluation coordinator of the ANCHOR Project, works to empower young adults.

Jamie Verwys

Ian Ellasante, program and evaluation coordinator of the ANCHOR Project, works to empower young adults.

Along the busy street of Broadway Boulevard, there is an unassuming house. Juxtaposed with the traffic, the only thing that hints to something happening inside is a single, rainbow-colored streamer.

This is the home of the Accessible Network for Coordinated Housing Opportunities and Resilience, known better as the ANCHOR Project. Still in its early stages, the nonprofit was created to be a safe space for LGBTQ and straight ally young adults to reclaim stability in their lives.

The goal here is teach young people at risk of dangerous behaviors, or living with limited resources, important skills so they have a reaffirmed power to change. Resilience in today's world requires one to have the basic needs of housing, an income, education and sound mental health. But for many people in transitional ages within the LGBTQ community, the door leading out of homelessness, poverty and trauma is closing before them.

Program and evaluation coordinator Ian Ellasante has been building up community resources for the LGBT youth of Tucson since his arrival in 2007. His advocacy work includes his involvement with the Advisory Council of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA) and the UA's Committee for Best Practices for Transgender Inclusiveness. Prior to ANCHOR, he was program coordinator for iTEAM , a project dedicated to supporting unstably housed LGBTQ youth.

ANCHOR is a collaborative effort of three organizations: the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, Codac Behavioral Health Services and the UA's Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW). It is Ellasante's position as an assistant research social scientist for SIROW that led him to ANCHOR.

"This is work that really speaks to my heart," he says. "I was an LGBT youth at one point in my life and so I know the value of this type of advocacy work."

Ellasante says instability created by homelessness, discrimination in the work place and the effects of dangerous behaviors create trauma that is rarely discussed.  "This project is trauma-informed," he says. "In addition to being LGBTQ, everything we do is also through the lens of people who experience trauma. And homelessness or being unstably housed is traumatic."

To assist participants with housing, ANCHOR teams with CODAC, who opened a new center nearby dedicated to LGBT services. Through their case management and housing department, participants can be placed in a housing program which determines what they are capable of paying and potentially will subsidize their rent.

For a young person living on the street, the chances of becoming involved in crime, drug use, health disadvantages, unsafe sexual practices and violence are greater. According to Education and Employment Resources Specialist Samantha Gardner, the prevalence of LGBTQ youth living unstably is a freighting statistic in need of change.

"When you start out your adult life with such a disadvantage, you spend your whole life trying to get out of that hole," she says. "There are just a lot of needs to be met but ANCHOR project helps people who are 18 to 26. Usually there are teen programs that can be very helpful, but when you turn 18, you're aged out of this program. Most people do not have the facilities or the ability at that point to be completely independent. This tries to give these young adults a leg up before they fall through the cracks."

A trained librarian who has always wanted to help underrepresented groups, Gardner aids participants in writing resumes, filling out job applications and school paperwork, identifying goals and integrating into society's work force. She stresses that economic stability is key for the success of the LGBTQ community and affects businesses; whether they are queer friendly or not.

"Don't think of this as a charity project," she says. "Think of this as investing in a future work force. These are people that have all the capabilities to be fully functioning members of society. If we let them fall through the cracks; we are losing employees, consumers, citizens."

One of her main goals is to create a job resource center for LGBTQ youth, a service she has found vacant in smaller cities like Tucson. To meet this she has created a Facebook group called Tucson LGBTQ Job Leads where she posts job listings, internship opportunities and mentorship programs. Her hope is to bring in more local businesses and gain community interest in participants.

"I feel that it's in everybody's interest to ensure that these people are able to not just work, but also to be able to spend because America is a consumer economy and when you do have these sorts of issues where people can't find work, they also can't buy."

She wants to showcase gay business owners to empower participants with the knowledge that this is not just a lofty dream; independence is possible.

Instilling self-worth is an important aspect provided by ANCHOR and they offer support groups weekly to deal with trauma, self-discovery, and healthy sex and relationships.

For one participant, who has asked to use the name Briana Armstrong for confidentiality reasons, finding acceptance and an understanding of her identity is how she's been positively impacted by ANCHOR.

"In the queer community our identities get taken away a lot, especially in this hetero-normative, cis gender community we get stripped of our identities in a lot of different programs," she says. "In ANCHOR you are given that power."

She sought further involvement and responsibility in ANCHOR, desiring to build bridges within the community and a deeper understanding of the definitions present under the LGBTQ spectrum. She will soon be a part of a new participant advisory board, launching soon.

"It starts with understanding these general basic definitions, then understanding that these are general definitions and they are different for each person."

The self-acceptance gained from this program has changed her life and given her the strength to help teach others.

"Being able to embrace being a feminist and queer, not just queer, but accepting my blackness, all these pieces of identity, these pieces of me, are always going to be a struggle to accept, with everyone."

ANCHOR is currently utilizing a three-year research grant to discover better ways to serve unstable LGBT youth and allies. The program is currently small, but they are hoping to assist around 180 clients throughout the span of the grant.

The program is open to LGBTQ affirming and allied adults from ages 18 to 26, who demonstrate need. The best way to become a participant is to fill out an interest form, available on location (2801 E. Broadway Blvd.) or online, or stop by ANCHOR on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays starting at 3 p.m. for one of their weekly groups which run between 5 to 7 p.m.

Business owners who are interested in contributing may contact Samantha Gardner at sgardner@saaf.org or join the Facebook group. For more information visit, www.anchorprojectarizona.org.



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