One in four LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness.
To combat this epidemic, a Logansport native has been named the founding executive director of Trinity Haven, Indiana’s first home for LGBTQ youth who have nowhere safe to live.
Jenni White has been hired to lead Trinity Haven after working for nearly 10 years at Coburn Place Safe Haven — a transitional housing facility for survivors of domestic violence. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Indianapolis and a master’s degree from the University of Evansville. She most recently served Coburn Place as vice president of mission impact.
Scheduled to open later this summer, Trinity Haven is located in Mapleton-Fall Creek, an Indianapolis neighborhood. It will offer a safe and welcoming transitional home for at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 16-21.
“We will provide an intimate, home-life option for LGBTQ youth to deal with the trauma of being removed from their own home,” White said.
Trinity Haven has partnered with Indiana Youth Group (IYG), a United Way organization that’s offered programming and assistance for LGBTQ youth for more than 30 years and currently offers a basic needs program during the day for youth who do not have another place to go.
LGBTQ youth face a number of challenges, including becoming homeless. They are sometimes faced with social stigmas, discrimination and even rejection by their own families — adding to the physical and mental strains that homelessness already causes.
White said there are varying degrees of negative reactions felt by youth attempting to come out to those closest to them. Some families even treat the disclosure as “bringing shame upon the family.”
“Between 70-75 percent of youth who come out to their families as LGBTQ — any of those identities — have experienced some form of negative reaction,” White stated. “Anything from ‘oh my goodness, I had no idea, how could you do this,’ to ‘what is this going to mean, I’m afraid for you,’ — everything from there all the way leading to ‘pack your bags and get out of my house, I never want to see you again.”
The stress of trying to come to terms with complex personal matters, family rejection and becoming victimized through verbal and physical abuse by peers are all contributing factors to the possible trauma of growing up in the LGBTQ community.
Many youngsters refuse to open up about their identity issues, due in part to an upbringing in a world that makes it difficult to express why they may feel different — and in many instances, they are simply too afraid to discuss it. Those who do find the courage to open up about their identity issues, however, are often met with rejection from their peers at school and their families at home.
White noted that such a devastating response has led to 25 percent of LGBTQ youngsters joining a growing population of homeless kids on the streets. Additionally, such traumatic experiences can explain why lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
That’s where Trinity Haven steps in.
Trinity Haven is working with the Indiana Department of Child Services DCS to obtain the proper licenses to care for at-risk LGBTQ youth in the state. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the percentage of youth in the foster system who identify as LGBTQ is higher than the percentage of kids in the general U.S. population who identify as LGBTQ.
The transitional home, which will be able to house 10 residents at a time starting out, will be taking placements from DCS along with applications through their partner, IYG. Each resident will be allowed a maximum two-year stay.
The Indianapolis facility will make available relationship-based case management services to help youth “unpack and heal” from the trauma they’ve experienced. They’ll be contracting with IYG to provide these services.
Trinity Haven will also help youth learn what it takes to live independently. The IYG-based programming helps to develop skills like money management and job training.
“Residents will be involved in everything you can imagine,” White said. “From cooking and cleaning — the basic household chores — to budgeting and personal finance workshops, this will be the setting for them to learn those basic life skills.”
White noted that the family atmosphere at Trinity Haven will allow residents to navigate their feelings around the homophobic mistreatment they experienced growing up.
According to White, Trinity Episcopal Church, a parish in downtown Indianapolis, helped found Trinity Haven when they learned that LGBTQ youth homelessness was an invisible crisis in the city.
“Trinity Episcopal Church has a long history of helping incubate nonprofit organizations,” White said. “They give them a place to start and then set them free.”
White said the church felt a special obligation to mend this particular tear in society after learning that one of the primary reasons LGBTQ youth leave their homes, run away or get kicked out is due to the misapplication of religion.
“They wanted to walk the talk — they are proof to the community and the youth living here that there are faith-based people who can be opening, welcoming and affirming of others as they believe in their denomination,” White said. “It’s hopeful to know that several other parishes in the episcopal dioceses have jumped on board with their support.”
As of today, over $1 million of the $1.5 million-dollar startup goal has been raised. Trinity Haven has received funding from the Lilly Endowment, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention and Episcopal Churches, among others.
Once renovations are complete, White hopes Trinity Haven will become a symbol of hope in Indiana for at-risk LGBTQ youth after experiencing many years of confusion, shame and fear.
White, who lives with her wife and teenage son, has spent the majority of her professional life serving people at risk. Now she is pegged with mentoring youth toward new feelings of pride and honor about their LGBTQ identities.
For more information or to donate, please visit http://www.trinityhavenindy.org