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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Let's take 'PRIDE' in our youth
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
2010-06-23

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by Malaundja Gayles

Chicago streets are flooded with youth who are homeless. Some of us are forced into the streets because of our sexuality. Oftentimes we are face to face with danger and complete discomfort. During this Pride season, I'm asking you to take "pride" in our homeless LGBTQ youth by taking action.

To begin, I was a homeless youth. I am also part of the LGBTQ community. I've encountered unstable housing since the tender age of 15. It was definitely a life-altering experience. Left with not many opportunities or choices, I began reaching out anywhere and everywhere. I turned to the shelters but they were always full. I knew it was dangerous but I even turned towards complete strangers for help. I was blessed not to ever get seriously hurt. It seems as if I was in a dead end situation. I wanted so much more out of life—school, a job, the connection to a caring adult and a home. I slept on trains, in parks and even at complete strangers' houses, never knowing whether or not I was going to experience violence. Finally, I came across a program for homeless youth but it took me eight months to obtain stable housing—there was a long waiting list. This program was LGBTQ-friendly and greeted me with open arms. The adults staffing this program helped me to achieve more in life that I've always yearned for. They helped me get in school, taught me to present myself in a professional manner that affirmed my sexuality and gender identity. It gave me somewhere safe and secure to live. This program was incredible but I realize they can only help so many. Remember, it took me eight months to get in. What about the youth that are still waiting for someone to help them get to where they've always been trying to go in life but lack the access to resources and support?

I've been volunteering with a program that makes sure youth like me have a chance. It's called the LGBTQ Host Home Program and it's run by an agency called UCAN, along with community partners Howard Brown Health Center and Teen Living Programs. The idea is simple: reach out and partner with adults across the city and suburbs who have a private living space or extra bedroom in their apartment and are willing to house a youth aged 18-24. UCAN provides ongoing training and support to both adults and youth. They are there to help train and guide us every step of the way. Currently, one young adult is successfully living in a home in the Little Village neighborhood. We're training more homes right now and youth will move into homes in July and August.

The bottom line is that the streets of Chicago are home to too many young adults. They need you to take "pride" by getting involved. Many youth need the opportunity to gain stability, housing, jobs, education and life skills needed to become a successful adult. This starts with UCAN. I am a prime example of how taking "Pride" in a youth can make a difference. I am 22 years old and now have pride in myself. I am a full-time college student and plan on attending law school in 2014. I knocked on 2,196 doors campaigning for Obama two years ago. I am strong and resilient. If I could say one thing to adults thinking about opening their homes, it is this: take the step. I wish this program had existed two years ago and someone had taken that step with me. You can transform the life of a youth—with as little as an extra living space or private room in your apartment you can make a difference. In the process you might make a life-ong friend. I stay connected to the adults that helped and encouraged me when I was down. They believe in me. When I walk across the commencement stage to be handed my law degree, they will be there cheering me on. This is what "pride" is for me.

Take pride in a youth this LGBTQ Pride Month. Call or e-mail UCAN and see how you can support us in opening your home, making a financial contribution or get the word out to others. Visit www.ucanchicago.org or call 312-738-5966.

Malaundja Gayles is a 22-year-old full-time college student who plans to attend law school. She actively volunteers her time in assisting homeless youth.


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