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Agencies, Activists at Homeless Forum

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One small step for DCFS has meant one big leap for homeless GLBT youth.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, after years of complaints about its lack of caring properly for GLBT youth, recently issued a policy for staff on 'Assessment and Treatment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youths.'

The policy was created with the help of long-time community youth activists including Richard Gray, as well as Dr. Larry Small, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and other GLBT agencies.

This change, combined with Mayor Daley's January announcement that his administration plans to eliminate homelessness in Chicago in 10 years, lead to a 'Consensus Workshop' April 29 at the U. of Illinois.

The Chicago Commission on Human Relations and the Chicago Department of Public Health joined with advocates such as Gray and Dennis Sneyers and several business sponsors to host more than 100 leaders from DCFS, Chicago Public Schools, CHPD, and private agencies which handle issues related to GLBT youth.

The majority of the workshop was set aside for brainstorming by the mostly adult audience. There were a few scattered youth—but many agreed that a future forum would need to be held at a time when more youth could attend.

William Greaves, the Mayor's LGBT liaison, and Lora Branch, director of the CDPH Office of LGBT health, spoke about the historic nature of the forum.

Tom Behrens of the Night Ministry, which has served youth of all kinds for nearly three decades, said that in the early 1980s, when he began this work, the only people who cared for runaways were pimps and pedophiles. He said he was heartened to see so many experts and advocates gathered in one room. Behrens said he learned early on that GLBT youth were facing additional hardships, many of them thrown out of their own homes by parents.

In the workshop session, hundreds of ideas surfaced on how to better help homeless youth. These proposals were filtered into categories: Access to Basic Needs and Services; Safe, Secure Space; Youth Voices and Leadership; Inclusivity and Social Justice; Accountable, Well-Trained Individuals; Public Education and Outreach; Mentoring and Support; Policy Development and Reform; Diverse, Sustained Funding & Resources.

With a diverse group of attendees, another hot topic was making sure that resources were spread out across cultures and geographic areas of Chicago. There was a clear frustration in the room among some activists who feel what limited resources there are get funneled just to the North Side.

Perhaps the biggest need was sustainable, long-term funding of projects that were not hampered by policy and legal hurdles.

There was an obvious excitement in the air at the workshop, especially among long-time activists who have been hitting roadblocks in their efforts to serve GLBT youth at risk.

The next step, according to Greaves, is for the organizers of the forum to meet about turning ideas into action. There are already several proposals being floated for youth projects, even shelters.

The forum's biggest accomplishment was providing a networking opportunity. The goal now is to translate that creative energy into sustainable long-term resources.

William Greaves is at (312) 744-7911.

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