Gimme Shelter: Bread & Roses Opens As Temporary Home For LGBTQ+ Youth

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Sunlight shines through large windows onto walls adorned with Pride flag quilts made by volunteers, a dining table with flowers in a white vase, and a white board with house rules, inspirational quotes and a picture of civil rights advocated/trans hero Marsha P. Johnson. The aroma of pancakes and maple syrup wafts through as people walk in and out of the space that has become home for five LGBTQ+ identifying youth.

Homeless LGBTQ+ youth ages 18 to 24 can find temporary shelter at Bread & Roses, the first crisis transitional housing program for LGBTQ+ youth in Pima County, created through the collaboration of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF) and Old Pueblo Community Services (OPCS).

The program combines the transitional housing expertise of OPCS and the knowledge of and connection to the LGBTQ+ community from SAAF, which will provide case management and wraparound services to the youth in the program, said SAAF CEO Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah.

With COVID restrictions, Bread & Roses can host up to five youth at a time, with only one person per bedroom. At full capacity and without COVID restrictions, they are able to host nine individuals with 2 people per room and an extra room for anyone that may not be comfortable to share a room initially for any reason, said Litwicki.

Bread & Roses would not only provide a temporary home, but would give youth access to any services addressing their needs, like mental or physical health services, food insecurity, job training or transportation issues.

"We know the youth don't just need shelter," said Grivois-Shah. "Our goal isn't to have this transitional housing for a few months and for them to be exactly where they were before they started with the program."

This approach is relatively new, according to Litwicki, who said that addressing homelessness has often centered around a "charity model," instead of a "solidarity model."

Bread & Roses was chosen by a group of youth who have experienced homelessness themselves, along with five other housing projects in the county to address youth homelessness.

The Youth Action Committee—established in 2018 by Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness (TPCH) in order to increase youth voice and leadership in addressing youth homelessness—awarded Bread & Roses $864,000 through HUD's Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project (YHDP), said City of Tucson Housing & Community Development Department Collaborative Applicant Coordinator Jason Thorpe. The project requires youth leadership in all aspects of the initiative.

The committee worked with youth service providers to identify critical gaps in community infrastructure, decided how YHDP funds would be used in the community and collaborated with the City of Tucson to develop the funding solicitation for projects. Youth can apply for a spot at Bread & Roses through TPCH's Coordinated Entry Homeless Assistance Access Points or other access points like OPCS.

According to a 2018 report by Chapin Hall's Voices of Youth Count, a youth homelessness research initiative at the University of Chicago, LGBTQ+ youth make up to 40 percent of homeless youth and experience homelessness at twice the rate of their cisgender and heterosexual peers.

They also report even higher rates of homelessness for those who identify as both LGBTQ+ and black or multiracial.

Grivois-Shah said they think the rate of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness in the county is about a quarter to half of all homeless youth, but only five percent of them engage with the system.

"We think there's a big barrier for LGBTQ youth in particular," said Grivois-Shah."There's youth that reported they'd rather go it alone on the streets and face the potential violence of existing systems. So this is a great opportunity for those who have not felt like they've had a safe space to go to, who are experiencing homelessness, to come to this site that's affirming for LGBTQ youth."

The program is named after James Oppenheim's poem "Bread and Roses," inspired by the slogan from a 1912 textile worker's strike, lead by women and queer people fighting for fair wages, equality and a life filled with joy and dignity, all the things Bread & Roses stands for, said Eon program manager Kristen Godfrey.

"We want to house folks, but we also want people to experience life as it should be, liberation, safety, community," Godfrey said.

As the poem says: "Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses"

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