Sacramento plans to open its first homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in this neighborhood

Learn about the proposed homeless shelter site near Curtis Park

A grassy lot near Highway 99 between X Street and Broadway in Sacramento could be the next site for a large city-run homeless shelter under a proposal by Councilman Jay Schenirer in March 2019.
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A grassy lot near Highway 99 between X Street and Broadway in Sacramento could be the next site for a large city-run homeless shelter under a proposal by Councilman Jay Schenirer in March 2019.

There are likely more than 100 LGBTQ homeless young people in Sacramento County, experts say, but no shelter that focuses specifically on their needs.

That’s expected to change this summer.

Sacramento’s first homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth, a 12-bed facility in a midtown house at the corner of 21st and P streets, is planned to open early this summer, said David Heitstuman, executive director of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, which will operate the shelter.

The shelter will focus on serving LGBTQ “transitional-aged youth” between the ages of 18 and 24, though young people in that age range who do not identify as LGBTQ will not be turned away, Heitstuman said.

Councilman Steve Hansen, the city’s first openly gay council member, is proposing the shelter because he said the city needs to do more to help a vulnerable population within the homeless community.

“The specific impacts of homelessness on LGBT youth are profound. As youth come out, their families kick them out, and they struggle to figure out where to go,” Hansen said. “In talking to LGBT youth of color and transgender youth, they are buffeted by multiple layers of prejudice and barriers. This is a way to empower them for a productive and happy life.”

Young people will be able to stay at the shelter for up to 90 days, while receiving clothing, food, transportation, help finding housing, help getting state identification cards, and other services, Heitstuman said. It will be open 24 hours a day.

“Our goal in those 90 days is to create some stability for them and provide them the opportunity in a low-barrier environment to access case management, and get their identity documents in order to build a basic stability so when we’re able to identify what the next housing step is, they’re ready for that,” Heitstuman said. “What we found is that the first 90 days are critical in building trust.”

Precise data does not exist on the number of homeless LGBTQ youth in the Sacramento region, but service providers and experts say it’s likely over 100, and growing.

Volunteers conducting the Point in Time count — a federally-required census of homeless people conducted every other winter — did not ask about gender identity and sexual orientation until this year, said Ben Avey, spokesman for nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward, which conducts the countywide count.

The data from the latest count, set to be released in June, will include data on gender identity and sexual orientation, Avey said.

In 2017, the count found more than 3,600 homeless people countywide, including 242 transitional-aged youth. There are likely many more, though, experts say.

“It’s hard to count them because they tend to hide pretty well,” Hansen said.

About 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, a 2012 study by UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute found.

Service providers in Sacramento find that statistic to be accurate, Heitstuman said.

Nonprofit Wind Youth Services, which serves homeless youth between ages 12 and 24, provided services to 805 youth in 2018, executive director Robynne Rose-Haymer said.

Hansen said he hopes the City Council will vote to approve the shelter on April 23 to take a step toward providing services to that population.

The city would provide up to $166,395 to help fund the shelter through December, said Andrew Geurkink, a program analyst in the city’s homeless coordination office. The shelter was also awarded a California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services grant, Heitstuman said.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg in December asked all eight council members to find sites for at least 100 shelter beds with services in each of their districts. So far, Councilman Jay Schenirer has proposed sites at the Florin light rail station and a lot near X Street and Alhambra. Councilman Jeff Harris has proposed a Cal Expo-owned site at the southeast end of Ethan Way. Those three shelters, modeled after the city’s Railroad Drive shelter, would have 100 beds each and serve adults, many of whom have been homeless for years.

Hansen plans to announce next week another potential larger shelter site in his district, which includes downtown, midtown and Land Park, he said.

“I think this is a really critical element to our overall strategy,” Hansen said of the LGBT shelter.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.