A few years ago, Sara Alrajabi wouldn’thave been able to stand before several hundred people to talk about her mental health and her decision to come out as gay.
But there she was Tuesday at the Marriott Downtown to not only embrace who she is, but to feel the support of everyone in the room.
Alrajabi accepted the Diamond Service Award from the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention for her work as an engagement coordinator for Adult & Child Health, which provides mental health services and other programming. The award recognizes someone who has overcome homelessness and is giving back to the community in a meaningful way.
“I thought I was going to be on disability or dead by this time,” the 24-year-old said. After a falling out with her parents as a teen in Indianapolis, she drifted, at one time living in an abandoned house.
She found Indiana Youth Group, a drop-in center for young people ages 12-20 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ+). From there, she found her place as a peer counselor with Adult & Child.
“I had given up on myself, and if these people didn’t see the light in me, then … there wouldn’t be this light that I give,” she told the group.
A year after living in that abandoned house, she bought her first home, and she is repairing her relationship with her family.
“I am 24 years old and I have a business card and I have a job and I have a story, and I don’t have to be … fighting to love myself.”
Alrajabi’s experience with homelessness is not uncommon for LGBTQ youth, who are twice as likely as their peers to be couch-surfing or living on the street, said Matthew Morton, guest speaker for the event. Morton specializes in youth homelessness in his work as a research fellow at the University of Chicago.
He challenged the group of advocates in the audience to focus on youth and young adult initiatives, so that more people like Alrajabi have hope and a path to a future.
Others honored during CHIP’s awards program included:
Angela Hopson, executive director, SOAR Initiative (Street Outreach Animal Response), who received the Joseph W. Fahy Caring for Our Neighbors award for her work to help those living on the street with their pets. Hopson, who moved in and out of homelessness for 10 years as a teen and young adult, went on to earn business and law degrees from Indiana University.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, who received the William A. Crawford Public Service Award for adding 400 permanent housing units for the city’s homeless.
Karin Thornburg, retired community liaison coordinator for Eskenazi Health Midtown Community Mental Health, who received the D. William Moreau Jr. Homeless Advocate Award.
School on Wheels, Service Provider Champion Award, for its outreach work in shelters and schools to offer academic tutoring to children who are homeless.