A Place to Call Home

D.C.'s first transitional home for GLBT youth to open June 1

Two weeks before opening the District’s first transitional home for homeless GLBT youth, Brian Watson is working on only four hours of sleep, consumed by all the work yet to be done on the house, as well as by how much information to share.

”At first I was hesitant,” admitted Watson, the director of programs at Transgender Health Empowerment (THE) and president of the D.C. Coalition of Black LGBT Men and Women, of officially announcing the opening date of the Wanda Alston House at THE’s pageant fundraiser, May 18, the night before speaking with Metro Weekly. ”But now it’s really coming together.”

Brian Watson
Brian Watson
(Photo by Ward Morrison)

As of May 19, the renovations of the three-story home, located at an undisclosed address in Northeast D.C., are still far from complete. The drywall in each room is waiting for paint, and the floor on the main level is awaiting delivery of the cherry-wood flooring to be installed.

The Wanda Alston House, named in tribute of the first permanent mayoral liaison to the GLBT community who was murdered in 2005, will function as a transitional home for GLBT youth, ages 16 to 24.

The home features a handicap-accessible bedroom on the first floor, three bedrooms on the second floor and four bedrooms on the third floor. Each floor has a common area, with the second floor featuring a balcony threads opens above a backyard lawn. The house is also Metro-accessible.

Watson’s long to-do list before opening the doors of the home Sunday, June 1, includes his part in selecting the home’s first eight transitional residents. Watson says THE, the driving force behind the transitional housing, plans to hire a licensed clinical social worker to help narrow down the more than 25 applications that have come in from prospective residents, mostly gay males and transgender females.

”The house will be full when we open,” he said.

There are many GLBT youth in the D.C. area who leave home or who are kicked out because of issues with their parents, he says.

”[The Wanda Alston House is] for these youths, to be able to have a home to go to that’s safe from hurt, harm and danger, where people don’t judge them and where they can develop into successful adults. [It's] an environment where they don’t have to worry about surviving.

”A lot of GLBT youth turn to suicide or substance abuse, or even to prostitution as a way to survive. A lot of it has to do with the fact that they have nowhere to go. The housing program is trying to help those youths by providing a safe place to go.”

The Covenant House Washington, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) and the Latin American Youth Center all partnered with THE in conducting outreach for finding potential occupants, said Watson, and will continue to do so after the first tenants move on. THE will also outreach on the Internet.

”We’ve already set up a Yahoo page and we’re about to set up a MySpace page, because we’re trying to try to spread the word through avenues that youth would access,” Watson said of the program.

”Most of the clients that we probably are going to see are going to be a little bit more independent, and so we only want to provide [temporary] support to them, so they’ll be able to transition from this housing program, hopefully, to independent living.”

Transgender Health Empowerment also hopes to hire five people to work at the home. And while the eight people living at the home will be assessed individually, Watson said the transitional support will operate as an 18-month program, only six of which the clients will live in the Wanda Alston House, before moving out on their own.

Though an exact figure was not available before Metro Weekly deadline, Watson says he estimates the operating budget of the home, provided by the D.C. government and the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, to be about $300,000 a year.

The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness is ”an independent, non-profit corporation that manages the D.C.’s Continuum of Care on behalf of the city,” according to the organization’s Web site, www.community-partnership.org.

Christopher Dyer, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, says the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness receives its funding from the Department of Human Services to fund various shelters and programs in Washington.

”This is not a shelter. We are providing not just housing, but wraparound services for youth,” such as job training and substance-abuse therapy, Dyer says, which is why THE has been granted additional funds for additional work.

”They’re also getting some funding and revenue to actually train other shelters that handle LGBT youth,” Dyer says, ”[At] emergency shelters like [Sasha Bruce Youthwork] and Covenant House and Latin American Youth Center.”

In addition to praising THE for ”taking on such important work,” Dyer says the Wanda Alston House is reflective of the work of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his administration.

”It’s a sign of the mayor and the administration improving the lives of GLBT residents. It’s an incredible opportunity and serves a need that has been identified by activists for a couple of years.”

That explains why, more than any other consideration, Watson says he is hoping the home will be a safe haven for those who feel hopeless.

”It’s really important for them to have a place to feel safe and where they can be themselves.”

For more information about the Wanda Alston House, call Transgender Health Empowerment at 202-636-1646, or e-mail info@theindc.org.