Op-Ed: LGBT Youth Struggle to Survive Detroit Winters

Just because the summer is upon us doesn’t mean we can leave homeless LGBT youth out in the cold.



Detroit is far from the only city with a significant LGBTQ homeless youth population. But in a city ravaged by economic decline, it is these youth who bear a disproportionate share of the burden.  

Take the example of another site where REC youth have stayed: at the intersection of Woodward and 6 Mile, a new construction site has arisen in the very neighborhood where two of our youth have been murdered in the past year.  It happens to be near Palmer Park, one of Detroit’s main gay areas, so many of our youth stay there for the sake of community.  Yet since the park is a known cruising spot, many youth cannot even walk down the street without being harassed under the assumption they are sex workers.  The park is the focus of a new effort to “clean up” the area, which will likely drive these youth further away, into even more dangerous conditions.

These problems cannot be solved overnight.  But there is hope for Jessica and other youth like her, provided we take action to give these youth a voice.  This is why the Ruth Ellis Center has launched our new campaign: End the Chill: Where Homeless Youth Sleep this Winter.  We are spotlighting the awful conditions which these youth must endure, simply because they are LGBTQ.  We are giving these youth a space to tell their stories of life on the streets.  And we are giving you a chance to make a difference in their lives.

Currently, our Second Stories drop-in center, which provides vital services, is only open a few days a week, for limited hours.  By donating to the End the Chill Campaign on Indiegogo and contributing towards our $20,000 goal, we can expand Second Stories’ hours in the winter, giving youth a longer respite from the cold, off the streets.

The End the Chill Campaign may seem like a small step forward. But is a step forward. It is my belief that by acknowledging the spaces where our youth are sleeping—by the exposing the reality of our youth's lives—we move towards a day when all youth in Detroit have a welcoming home. Not one of our children should be denied warm or shelter because of who they are. It is in our power to make that happen, and I ask you to join me.

Laura Hughes is the Executive Director of the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, MI.

Tags: Youth