Chris Cozad says she has opened her home to many LGBTQ youth in need of a little love and support over the years.
“These are kids who haven't had adults in their life who were willing or capable of doing that,” says Cozad. “To offer that helping hand, to lift those kids up and get them over the hump.”
Cozad says she started when her biological kids began to bring home friends, including one abused and kicked out for being LGBTQ.
“It is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done,” says Cozad, who says she’s taken around ten kids into her home. “It's also one of the hardest things I've ever done.”
Kaleidoscope Youth Center (KYC) is looking for more people like Cozad to help launch a new program helping LGBTQ youth transition to adulthood. Kaleidoscope Executive Director Erin Upchurch says she wants to get ahead of a growing problem.
“In Central Ohio, we currently have about an estimated 3,000 youth who identify as homeless or housing insecure,” says Upchurch. “And, just from national data that about 40 percent of those identify as LGBTQIA+.”
The LGBTQ youth safe space in Downtown Columbus provides a drop-in home after school for youth ages 12 to 20. This year, coinciding with their 25th anniversary, Kaleidoscope is expanding their reach to help youth in transition to independent living ages 16-24.
“The need is very vast and large,” says Upchurch. “And, we know that housing is a basic human right and need, and we really want to try and address that.”
A new program, “Connections”, will provide independent living skills, case management assistance and other services directly to youth in need.
“[Youth] will be linked with a case manager that will provide that support to help them navigate the services,” says Upchurch. “Through Connections they can access one of three housing programs, one of which is the host home network.”
The Host Home Network helps to fill the gap for youth who are homeless or home instable and LGBTQ. The program pairs youth in need with volunteer homes with screened, supportive host partners.
It is an opportunity for them to share resources, to engage in mentorship and relationships. All the while we provide the support to the young person and the host so that it can be a successful experience.
KYC will also launch a rapid rehousing program to help youth get independent housing, and a crowdfunded community living space in the carriage house behind their current property on Town St in the coming year.
LGBTQ youth are more vulnerable than their non-LGBTQ counterparts in a number of ways. According to data from GLSEN - they are more likely to experience violence, homelessness, thoughts of suicide and drug addiction. Upchurch says this program is about preventing those traumas before they happen.
“Our approach for this 25th year moving forward is 'it takes a village',” says Upchurch, who spoke with potential host home volunteers at an event held at a local library. “We know as an organization we can't do this alone, and one individual can't either. And so, it's our way of really wrapping around these young folks to let them know they belong here, and they matter. And to make sure they have access to what they need.”
Upchurch also says these programs work differently than others because they don’t require a youth to spend time in a shelter, or “live on the land” in order to qualify. And she says once the programs launch, youth will see an intake case manager who will assess their needs within 24 hours.
Cozad says that the experience of hosting a youth in need of housing won't always be perfect, but for those interested, they should do their research – because the impact for these kids is a matter of survival.
“I feel like we gave them a leg up, and we helped to lift them up to a place where – they at least had a chance,” says Cozad.
Volunteers can provide a host home on an emergency, short-term or long term basis. Volunteers must complete an application, background and reference check, home inspection and training. Volunteers will not be compensated, but youth placed in host homes will be provided a stipend for their living expenses. Upchurch says applications to participate in the program will be launched in April.