Jan 19, 2023 - News

A D.C. nonprofit is bridging the gap for LGBTQ+ youth

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

SMYAL, a nonprofit in Eastern Market, is working to bridge the gap left by Casa Ruby, the once high-profile group serving LGBTQ+ people that shut down abruptly last summer.

Why it matters: Nearly 40% of D.C.’s homeless youth are LGBTQ+. Yet, the city is short on social services to serve them. Casa Ruby was one of the few places in the District that offered a safe haven and bilingual services for unhoused and immigrant LGBTQ+ youth in particular.

What’s happening: LGBTQ+ youth have unique needs — they may require help accessing hormone therapy. Undocumented and non-English-speaking youth might need assistance with obtaining work permits or applying for Medicaid.

  • In recent months, SMYAL has hired two Spanish-speaking caseworkers and helped 60 LGBTQ+ youth.
  • The group’s new bilingual outreach program has also helped 10 people enter transitional housing.

Context: Safe spaces for immigrant LGBTQ+ youth are especially important because they face stigma for multiple reasons, Sierra Barnedo, manager of SMYAL’s bilingual outreach program, tells Axios: "You don't speak the same language. You’re already being outcast in your own community for being gay. You don't have anywhere to fit in. So creating these safe spaces is just so important.”

What they’re saying: Alisson, 23, who asked that her last name not be published for safety reasons, tells Axios she was couch-surfing before she met Barnedo last summer. She’d left home due to criticism of her identity from family members and was struggling to find steady pay due to her undocumented status.

  • SMYAL has since helped her obtain a work permit, enroll in an English-language program and get into transitional housing.

Yes, but: The organization needs more staff and financial resources to meet the need, Barnedo says.

  • An LGBTQ+ shelter that Casa Ruby ran in Shepherd Park has shuttered, and Barnedo says that a city-run LGBTQ+ adult shelter in Benning Ridge isn’t easy for many of her clients to get to.

What’s next: SMYAL has received grants from the city and from Capital One and is asking the Bowser administration to dedicate funding for more LGBTQ+ resources.


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