OUTreach increases efforts to help homeless youth

(Source: Marian Edmonds Allen)

Marian Edmonds Allen, executive director for the OUTreach Resource Center, has said “enough is enough” with the homeless youth problem facing Utah.

In a recent letter to the editor sent to the three major newspaper organizations in Utah, she requested church leaders and members help with the crisis.

“In the past five days, there has been a huge increase in newly homeless youth asking our center for help, directly or through others,” wrote Allen in the letter. “The youngest is 15 years old . . . There is help to keep families together, regardless, and perhaps ESPECIALLY because of faith.”

Rachel Peterson, epidemiologist at Utah State University and national expert for youth homelessness, stated this is a huge problem. From her estimates, more than 5,000 youth a year experience homelessness at some point, with 40 percent being LGBT.

“That’s huge — I mean, homeless youth at any level is a major social problem that needs to be fixed,” said Karlee Berezay, LGBT advocate at Weber State University, “but specifically having a large number of LGBT youth not living with their families anymore, that’s just very detrimental to the child.”

Peterson, also the director for the OUTreach Recourse Center in Logan, said the problem is more hidden in rural areas such as Logan, but she still sees an issue with youth being asked to leave their homes for various reasons, and sexual orientation and gender identity are some of the major ones.

“I definitely share Marian’s concern and alarm with the numbers we are seeing and in the patterns we are seeing, because I think it’s getting worse rather than better right now,” Peterson said. “In Utah overall, we’re doing great things to end homelessness, but among youth, and particularly queer youth, we’re not doing that.”

Even with all the strides the LGBT movement has made recently, Allen said youth still feel they have to be careful about what they say and do because of the backlash they may get from people who are perhaps unhappy with the recent victories.

“They (opposers of the LGBT movement) are more apt to be bullying, and we can see the LGBT youth are really the ones suffering,” Allen said.

Berezay said Allen is one of her personal heroes for all her hard work and effort.

Because of Allen, the WSU Gay-Straight Alliance will be building hygiene kits to give to homeless youth instead of the usual food drive it does each year.

“We decided to do that because we really liked the idea of forming these hygiene kits to assist with the homeless youth in Utah,” Berezay said. “As much as it is a problem, there are other social problems that go along with being LGBT, even political problems at this level that we have all been really hurt or affected by.”

Allen has been working on the Family Acceptance Project, which directly affects families with LGBT youth, helping parents learn they don’t have to give up their tightly held religious beliefs in order to accept their children.

“The Family Acceptance Project teaches them (parents) how to talk to their child in a way that keeps the child safe while still honoring their religious beliefs,” Allen said. “The project came out with a Mormon-specific version of their work in the form of the film, and it was premiered at Weber State last spring.”

Berezay said she feels there is a lack of LGBT visibility on the WSU campus, and she wishes more people would get trained in Safe Zone.

Safe Zone training explains vocabulary; identity formation of LGBT people, such as the process of coming out and what it means to come out; heterosexual privilege, issues heterosexual identifiers don’t have to worry about that LGBT do; and what it means to be an ally, which can vary in degrees from being willing to help somebody who is LGBT all the way to advocacy.

“I would love to see that happen a lot more with student leadership and faculty,” Berezay said. “‘Safe Zone’ signs would identify them and the campus as a safe zone. I think that Weber really is a safe zone for LGBT people, but it’s not very visibly safe, so I think there can be some anxieties from people who don’t know whether their teachers know how to handle that.”