The stories of Annie and Quincy—two individuals who have each had their share of challenges—demonstrate the significant impact that preventative services can have on someone’s life. For Annie, access to the drop-in center provided an outlet for counseling and medical treatment. Quincy transformed his own difficulties to advocate for adults in need—including the LGBT community—helping to keep them off the streets.
I met Annie at our Jersey City Drop-in Center. She came to take a shower, do her laundry, and get a bite to eat. Annie and I talked while she ate and waited for her laundry to finish. I learned that she was 45 years old and had been homeless for the last 6 months. Sleeping on the street because the shelters didn’t feel safe, she exchanged sex for drugs and food. She had used just about every kind of drug at one time or another. Annie said she wasn’t proud of herself. I told her that we weren’t there to judge, just to help. I made sure she knew she was welcome and could come by as often as she wanted. I suggested she visit Josephine (the nurse) for the sore she had on her forearm before she left. Annie left with some clean syringes and condoms and a promise to come back next week. We’ll work on getting her safe housing, an HIV test, teach her how to prevent HIV infection, and maybe start drug treatment when she’s ready.
Every morning, as a young teen in Clearwater, Florida, I stepped onto my bus headed for Palm Harbor University High School and frantically hurried to my seat, three back from the driver, and prepared for the inescapable, inevitable taunts.
A friend consoled me, and I pretended not to hear the attacks that continued throughout the bus ride and during the school day. But still the verbal insults had the stinging effect of snakebites. I became withdrawn and depressed, because my homosexuality was contrary to the “so called” conservative Christian values taught at home and reinforced at school. Like tens of thousands of LGBT youth in America, I sought protection from the streets, fearing I had nowhere else to go.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youths in our nation are LGBT who leave home after being rejected by family members, or flee shelters because residents bully or beat them. While my life on the streets was brief—a week or so at a time over the next two years—it had a profound impact on my life’s path.
In 2001, I dedicated my life to making a difference for others by serving in the fields of Social Work and Public Health, where I advocated for adults living with mental illness, reunited and strengthened families in the foster care system, and fought stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to healthcare for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Today, I manage Project LOL, a drop-in center and HIV prevention project for young gay and bisexual men in the Hudson County community, where I have the opportunity to channel my energies into an issue I am extremely passionate about—GLBTQ youth.
Originally published in The Jersey Gaze—Summer 2012 Edition