November 14, 2016 at 9:38 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
SMYAL to open LGBT homeless youth facility
SMYAL, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Every day at SMYAL we face the challenge of youth homelessness,’ said executive director Sultan Shakir. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

(UPDATE: As of Thursday, Dec. 1, negotiations involving SMYAL, the D.C. Department of Human Services and others involved in the transaction to lease the building at 746 19th St., N.E. for use as a transitional house for homeless LGBT youth are ongoing. 

SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir said he remains hopeful that DHS officials will soon finalize the contract so that SMYAL can secure the building it has planned to lease rather than having to start over again in a search for another house.

“They assure us that everything is in the works, and have even announced the project at youth service provider meetings, but we’re still waiting on the contract, which was expected to be received weeks ago,” Shakir said.)

D.C.’s LGBT youth advocacy organization SMYAL announced at its annual fundraising brunch on Sunday that it expects to open an eight-bedroom transitional house for homeless LGBT youth in December.

SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir told more than 600 people attending the group’s 19th Annual Fall Brunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel that the newly built house will be rented by SMYAL and operated under a one-year $300,000 grant from the D.C. Department of Human Services.

“We expect the grant to be extended and we will continue working with DHS and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and the city government in general to work on expanding the program,” Shakir told the Washington Blade after the event.

The soon to be opened house, located at 746 19th St., N.E., will operate as a transitional facility and offer various services to LGBT people between the ages of 18 and 24 to help them get on their feet and become self-sufficient following a stay at the facility for up to 18 months, according to SMYAL.

The house is located next to the intersection of 19th Street and Benning Road, N.E. steps away from one of the stops for the city’s recently opened street car line, which runs along Benning Road.

“It’s a transitional living facility where the main goal is to bring stability for a young person, wrap around supportive services for a young person in order to combat chronic homelessness,” Shakir said. “So we don’t want to just give them a place to sleep overnight. We really want to provide support and resources to ensure that they’re not homeless again.”

The Wanda Alston Foundation, which opened the city’s first transitional house for homeless LGBT youth in Northeast D.C. in 2008, and the LGBT community services center Casa Ruby, located on Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington, operate similar transitional facilities for homeless LGBT youth. Casa Ruby also operates an emergency shelter for LGBT homeless youth during the cold weather months.

Shakir said SMYAL decided to open its facility because the Alston House, which has space for eight people, and Casa Ruby don’t have enough space for the large number of homeless LGBT youth in the city.

“So every day at SMYAL we face the challenge of youth homelessness,” he said. “The fact of the matter is there are not enough places for young LGBT people to go” who are homeless, Shakir told the Blade.

SMYAL, gay news, Washington Blade

SMYAL plans to open this newly built house at 746 19th St., N.E. for homeless LGBT you in mid December.

Sunday’s fundraising event was hosted by NBC News4 anchor Wendy Rieger.

Award-winning swimmer Schuyler Bailar, 20, the first transgender man to compete on a NCAA Division 1 college swim team, delivered the event’s keynote speech. Bailar received SMYAL’s Community Advocate Award for his role as a vocal advocate for LGBT rights.

He and other speakers at the event called on the LGBT community and its allies to redouble efforts to fight discrimination and push for fairness and equality in the wake of the outcome of last Tuesday’s presidential election.

As an out transgender person who’s been the subject of news media reports associated with his role as a member of the Harvard University men’s swim team, Bailar said he has been contacted by other young trans people who are frightened over the possible consequences of the election.

“We’ve had plenty of discrimination and we’ve always stood up strong,” he told the gathering. “This is just another one of those moments where we’re going to have to find a way to stand up stronger, to bear our scars and bear our truths and we have to bring ourselves to the table, still.”

He added, “It’s so important that we continue to be out right now, more than ever, because we cannot be silenced now. This is not a time to hide or cower in our fears.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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