By Cairo Amani
Of the 4,000 beds for homeless youth in the United States, only 350 are specific to LGBTQ youth. Most are in New York. As youth from across the country migrate to the concrete jungle, many end up sleeping on park benches, hungry and in danger of assault and death. (Housing is a major social determinant of health and a mitigating risk factor for HIV/STD infection.) But there is another haven in the tristate area — perhaps the only one in New Jersey — that provides space for up to 12 LGBT youth.
Essex County LGBT R.A.I.N. (Reaching Adolescents In Need) Foundation, run by Elaine Helms and Tamara Fleming, provides not only housing but advice on healthy relationships, job counseling and, most importantly, a support system. The R.A.I.N. Foundation partners with other organizations to extend a larger network to LGBTQ youth. Their effectiveness could come from the fact that Elaine knows what it is like to be displaced.
“While at a friend’s home in New Jersey on December 31, 2003, I received a call from my mother asking me to come retrieve my things from her home,” said Elaine. “Her direct words: ‘I put your belongings in bags and left them on the porch. Come pick up your things and leave my house keys on the dining room table.’ At that moment, for the first time ever, I was homeless during the onset of winter.”
Elaine has found a home with Tamara, her partner in business and in life, but it is still her passion to help LGBTQ youth find stable living. They hope that the R.A.I.N. Foundation can connect each person with a caseworker and a plan for their future. But Elaine and Tamara want to expand their reach even further.
“I also want families to understand their LGBTQ children better and find ways to communicate with one another,” said Tamara. “With understanding and love within the household, it’s quite possible that there will be fewer cases of homelessness and prejudices due to lack of awareness. Counseling is a major component to wellness within this agency.”
R.A.I.N. provides a green, sustainable living environment, educational and financial responsibility resources as well as wrap-around services in substance abuse, mental health counseling and drug testing. Tamara and Elaine know LGBTQ youth need more than just housing to survive. They need a support system to see them through to adulthood.
“Since we’ve opened,” Tamara said, “I’ve heard countless circumstances that young people are being faced with in their lives due to their sexuality. Some stories are too hard to digest and comprehend. When I receive a call from an individual or an agency trying to place a young person that has nowhere else to go, I have an immediate confirmation of my purpose.”
Despite the efforts of R.A.I.N. and other organizations like it, housing continues to be a prime struggle for LGBTQ youth. Every helping hand matters. If you would like to get involved, please contact them by calling 732-707-RAIN (7246) or filling out the contact form on essexlgbthousing.org. Find out how you can assist in providing safe spaces for trans and queer youth.
If you or someone you know is an LGBTQ-identified youth in need of shelter, food, clothing or medical attention, please reach out to R.A.I.N. or any of their community partners. You are not alone.
Cairo loves moleskin notebooks, considers Scrivener a godsend, and enjoys reading, dancing, and board games that involve doing silly things for points. You can find out more about her here: about.me/cairoamani.
Cairo photo credit: Sil the Photographer