California lawmakers are looking for new ways to help homeless LGBT youth, specifically in San Diego and Sacramento, with a bill awaiting the governor’s signature which would kickstart funding for and offer more opportunities for housing them.
Assembly Bill 589, authored by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner (D-Encinitas), aims to help youth ages 18 to 24 in the LGBT community transition from homelessness to permanent housing, or reunite with their families, and would provide funds to community-based organizations to help facilitate a new program where such youth could be accepted temporarily into the homes of volunteer host families.
“Stable and affirming housing plays a vital role in the safety of all youth, especially youth identifying as LGBTQ+,” said Ms. Boerner in a May press release.
The bill, if signed into law, would create a pilot program to “identify, screen, and train LGBTQ+ affirming households that host LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness due to family rejection with a safe place to stay,” she said.
Under the bill, the state’s housing department would establish the three-year pilot administered by LGBT-centered community organizations, and use funds to place such youth with volunteer host families that are trained in “crisis prevention” with a “trauma informed approach,” according to its text.
The program would follow the footsteps of a similar program in northern San Diego County, according to a Senate legislative analysis, called Unicorn Homes, which offers mental health resources, life coaching, independent living and job readiness skills, and housing.
Since 2018, homeless services organizations receiving state funds must follow what’s known as a “housing first” approach prioritizing finding housing over treatment or therapy, including drug and addiction treatment. The new pilot program will follow such a model, where applicants must be accepted regardless of drug use, treatment completion, or participation in services offered. Instead, the program will use a “harm reduction” model, which educates those in care on how to engage in safe drug and alcohol consumption practices.
In 2022, there were an estimated 9,000 homeless youth in the state, and in California, currently, there are 60,000 children and youth in the state’s foster care system with around 3,500 of whom “age out” each year leading, in some cases, to homelessness, according to another bill analysis, this time from the Assembly.
“AB 589 helps provide a roof over our youth’s head where they can be supported and when possible, reunified with their family of origin. Unicorn Homes recruits a network of families willing to step in and offer a room at no cost. This program is critical in preventing chronic homelessness,” said Max Disposti, founder and executive director of the North County LGBT Resource Center, which operates the current Unicorn Homes program in northern San Diego.
The bill hasn’t received any opposition and is supported by the cities of Oceanside and San Diego, and the San Diego LGBT Community Center, North County LGBTQ Resource Center, and other organizations committed to ending homelessness.