With snow falling and temperatures hovering in the 20s, about 80 people joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 7, for the opening of a new transitional house for homeless LGBT youth.
The ceremony took place in a courtyard behind the newly built, eight-bedroom house located at 746 19th St, N.E., which will be operated by the local LGBT youth services organization SMYAL.
“I’m really appreciative of everybody being here today standing out in the cold and helping to make sure that LGBTQ youth are not getting left out in the cold,” said SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir.
Bowser was joined by Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs; and Laura Zeilinger, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, which awarded SMYAL a $300,000 grant to cover the rent and operating costs of the house for the first year. The grant is expected to be renewed in subsequent years.
Also participating were D.C. Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who has initiated legislation requiring city homeless shelters to reserve beds for LGBT homeless youth; and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who chairs the Council committee that oversees city programs addressing homelessness.
“We have made it a point in the two years that you’ve given me the privilege to be your mayor to focus on how we end homelessness in D.C,” Bowser told the gathering.
She noted that as part of a $145 million city program aimed at addressing homelessness, a census was conducted to determine the number of homeless people in the city, including the number of homeless youth.
Out of 330 homeless youth counted in the census, almost half self-identified as LGBTQ, Bowser said. “And about a fourth of these young people reported that their homelessness was entirely due to their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” she said.
Others participating in the ceremony included Lori Thompson, an official with the Ikea home furnishings store in College Park, which donated $15,000 worth of furniture that Shakir said provided all of the house’s furnishings.
Jeff Nelson, an official with the Verizon communications company, presented SMYAL with a giant poster-size check for $60,000 in support of the SMYAL transitional house.
“Verizon stands with you,” he said.
Shanice Thurman, 22, one of the first LGBT youth selected to reside in the newly opened house, told the gathering she was hopeful the house and SMYAL’s youth housing program would enable her to fulfill her goal of going back to school and becoming self-sufficient.
Shakir has said the house is part of SMYAL’s transitional housing program that offers various services for homeless 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.