Event to help LGBTQs 'Connect'
by Seth Hemmelgarn
City officials and service providers in fields ranging from housing to dentistry are encouraging LGBTQ people to attend an event offering services they may be reluctant to seek out.
LGBTQ Connect is set for Monday, October 7 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Organizers hope to see people who don't always know where to get help, or who fear they'll be shunned if they ask for it.
Pre-registration is encouraged but not required for the event, which will also include services such as legal assistance and sexually-transmitted infection testing.
Planners have been influenced by local statistics. In late June, the biennial San Francisco Homeless Point-In-Time Count and Survey was released and, for the first time, included statistics on LGBT people. The report found that out of a total of 7,350 homeless people, more than one in four (29 percent) identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or "other" for a total of 2,132.
Bevan Dufty, a gay man who serves as director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement for Mayor Ed Lee, was among those who cited the survey when talking about the need for LGBTQ Connect.
The event is modeled after the city's ongoing Project Homeless Connect, but the title's been altered because some people "have difficulty defining themselves as homeless," said Dufty. That includes people who are couch surfing or people who are worried about losing their rent-controlled apartments.
"If you question the strength of your safety net," LGBTQ Connect is an appropriate venue, he said.
"Traditionally, there are not many LGBT service agencies that have come" to Project Homeless Connect, and "having this connect enables us to craft a day which is maybe more relevant for LGBTQ persons," said Dufty.
Based on the homeless report's findings and estimates that at least 94,234 LGBT people live in San Francisco, LGBT housing activists estimate that 2.3 percent are homeless, compared to less than 1 percent for the general population.
Brian Basinger, director of AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco, who noted the disproportion, said, "The city historically has not invested in homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing for LGBT people, and it's that lack of investment that has caused these outrageous rates of homelessness."
Basinger added, "There's a perception of discrimination in city services, or a fear of discrimination. It doesn't matter whether discrimination is happening or not. These are people's feelings, and those feelings and fears are creating barriers to homelessness prevention work for the community with the highest need. The system isn't working as it's currently constructed."
Representatives from agencies that address complaints about services, such as the city's Human Rights Commission, are among those expected to be on hand at LGBTQ Connect.
Dufty said officials want to survey participants and have a policy forum within weeks of the event to share insights. He said he hopes to have "a discussion about ways in which the city may need to be more adroit at how we're responding" to people's needs.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Susan Tone, who's 60 and identifies as bisexual, was outside the Walgreens on Castro Street trying to collect change.
Tone has been homeless for about two years. She sometimes sleeps in Golden Gate Park, and she'd like to see more affordable housing, "and maybe more places that have clothing for people that are homeless."
Tone, who gets foods stamps and has done babysitting and other odd jobs, said she's gone to Project Homeless Connect and indicated an interest in LGBTQ Connect.
Denny David, deputy director at Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, one of the agencies helping pre-register people for the October event, said about 35 percent of the youth his agency works with are homeless or marginally housed.
One of the biggest needs youth have "is the chance to connect with a compassionate staff member who deeply cares about that LGBTQ young person and what they're experiencing, and listening to what their needs are," said David.
LYRIC, which is based in the Castro neighborhood and will be represented at LGBTQ Connect, offers services including helping people obtain identification documents and assisting them with job searches.
Dr. Veronika Vazquez, a San Francisco dentist, will also be at the event. Vazquez, who became involved after Dufty reached out to her, said, "Service in general for me has always been a huge part of why I became a dentist."
She said as a Hispanic female trying to succeed in a field dominated by white men, "I can relate" to other people facing discrimination.
"It's close to my heart," said Vazquez.
Basinger said that he didn't know how many events like this there would be, but he said, "We're going to have as many LGBTQ Connects as required to reduce LGBTQ homelessness by 50 percent in five years, whatever it takes, and the city needs to marshal the resources to make that happen."
Dufty said organizers are looking for a range of service providers, including barbers, podiatrists, dentists, and other volunteers. Those interested can contact Christine Keener at (415) 554-6164, Dufty at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.projecthomelessconnect.com.
The October 7 LGBTQ Connect takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.