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Making Connections Where They Matter

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BY KAYLEE DUFF

Kaleidoscope Youth Center’s new housing programs focus on centering the needs of homeless or housing insecure LGBTQIA+ youth in central Ohio.

This year, Kaleidoscope Youth Center (KYC) is celebrating 25 years of serving and supporting LGBTQIA+ youth in the central Ohio community. Since 1994, they have been providing LGBTQIA+ youth with programming that focuses on “building resiliency and reducing risk factors through belonging and building community.” KYC, which is located on Town Street in downtown Columbus, welcomes drop-in visits during their business hours (Monday through Thursday from 3:30 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. and Fridays from 3:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.).

Youth can visit, hang out and connect with other youth in spaces such as the Tom W. Davis Family Room, Creative Arts Room, Library, Game Room, David Bohnett Cyber Center and KYC Cafe. One of KYC’s most popular programs is Genderscope, which offers a safe and affirming place for trans, gender non-conforming and queer youth to come together, discuss issues and gain support. Kaleidoscope Youth Center is also the hub for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) Network in Ohio; providing support, technical assistance, and training throughout the state.

In 2019, KYC is celebrating their 25th anniversary by expanding their programming to even better serve the local LGBTQIA+ youth. Kaleidoscope Connections will provide access to resources and services for homeless and housing insecure or vulnerable young people (ages 16-24). Connections is a “trauma informed and culturally responsive community-based approach to quickly identify and link individuals to services and other critical supports,” explains Erin Upchurch, MSW, LISW-S, Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Youth Center. “Through Connections, participants will receive support in securing stable housing; case management and service coordination; child care support; food security; physical, mental health, and substance use support; and transportation.”

The Kaleidoscope Youth Center.

Traditionally, federally-funding housing programs — those currently available to the community — focus on those whom are either already homeless or about to be homeless. This means that young people in unsafe home situations are forced to live “on the land,” on the streets or in other dangerous conditions before qualifying for assistance.

“In Columbus, there are an estimated 3,000 young people identified as being homeless; and of that number approximately 40% are unaccounted for because they are not eligible to access current services based on federal guidelines, and/or there are not mechanisms developed to accurately record their experiences,” explained Upchurch. “While the need to serve youth whom are literally homeless is real, this restricted focus creates barriers, and a gap in services for LGBTQIA+ young people whose housing is insecure or vulnerable due to lack of acceptance or safety within their homes.”

This is where KYC’s Connections and Housing Programs come in. These programs are the first step to closing the gap and serving the vulnerable LGBTQIA+ youth in central Ohio. The main focus of Connections is prevention — “disrupting and decreasing the risk factors that may lead to homelessness, and often attached crises” — in addition to the three-pronged Housing Programs to support those with housing needs.

Rapid Re-Housing
Kaleidoscope received funding from the Victims of Crime Act and State Victim Assistance Act via the Ohio State Attorney General’s Office in 2018 to establish a housing program to provide “supported housing opportunities through move in/rental assistance, housing identification, and case management support to young adults ages 18-24.” The Rapid Re-Housing Program will help young adults in finding and securing safe housing opportunities.

Supportive Co-Housing
This program will be offered through KYC’s Carriage House (located just behind the Drop-In Center). “This project is innovative and the first of its kind in Central Ohio, and will meet the needs of our youth, and serve as a tool for the prevention of homelessness and subsequent crises,” says Upchurch. It will provide supportive, intentional community living, where young people will have space to strengthen life skills and benefit from peer and mentor relationships. Each participant will be supported by a case manager to aid in the development and implementation of a case plan. The ultimate goal of this program is to move the youth from Supportive Co-Housing into safe, stable and independent housing. This program will be available in early 2020.

Host Home Network
This program is a community based response addressing a critical gap in those with immediate short-term housing needs. According to Upchurch, “the goals are to keep our young people off of the streets, and to decrease and disrupt the potential for subsequent crises that often arise when youth are without a safe place to stay.” Kaleidoscope will recruit, screen, train and support community volunteers to provide short-term, supportive housing for homeless or critically vulnerable youth. These “Host Homes” offer a transformative and intimate approach to providing young people with a stable, supportive environment while they navigate the uncertain processes of finding and securing their own permanent housing or possibly reuniting with family. The Host Home Network will match young adults (ages 18-24) who have immediate, urgent housing needs with community volunteers, at no cost to those in need. In addition to the supportive housing environment, participants will also be provided case management support and referrals to relevant resources. The hosts are provided additional support and resources to ensure success for both the young person and the Host Home. If you have any questions about how to get involved, email Heather Wise, MSW at heather@kycohio.org.

KYC has been serving Central Ohio for 25 years.

The critical importance of these and similar housing programs are no mystery. It’s no secret that LGBTQIA+ youth (especially youth of color, and transgender and non-binary youth of color) are overrepresented in the homelessness or housing insecure population. “Our new programs will work to close existing gaps in services by meeting the basic needs of young people, addressing barriers to housing stability, connecting them to their resiliency and ultimately supporting their survival and thriving,” says Upchurch.

KYC has provided 25 years of innovative service and programming to LGBTQIA+ youth in our community; until now, no other youth housing programs specifically centering LGBTQIA+ youth in central Ohio have existed. Although other youth housing opportunities exist, KYC’s housing programs center the needs and experiences of LGBTQIA+ young people. This means that the unique needs of our bright and vibrant queer and trans youth are being centered in programs and services that are inclusive, affirming and culturally-responsive to their intersectional identities and needs.

The new Housing Programs aim to disrupt and prevent homelessness and housing vulnerability for the LGBTQIA+ youth in our community. “Our vision is to keep our young people off of the streets while giving them the tools to thrive,” Upchurch reaffirmed. “These new programs are an opportunity for the community and the city of Columbus to build and provide culturally responsive safety nets and programming that will work to decrease and close existing gaps in services by addressing and meeting the basic needs of our young people.” Through this, Kaleidoscope Youth Center connects youth to their own resiliency, which benefits their life skills and ultimately supports their survival and thriving.

Find KYC online at kycohio.org. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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