Metro Weekly

SMYAL launches 6-year Extended Transitional Housing program for homeless LGBTQ youth

Extended program will be open to 12 residents requiring additional support and behavioral or mental health services

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Some of SMYAL’s current transitional housing program residents – Photo: SMYAL.

Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, the D.C.-area organization that provides support services to LGBTQ youth, is launching an Extended Transitional Housing program for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. 

SMYAL currently has two existing sites that provide transitional housing to housing-insecure LGBTQ youth aged 18 to 24. As part of that program, 26 residents in total are provided with life skills training, employment support, and resources to help them become independent. But under the current housing program, youth typically stay for up to 24 months before transitioning out.

Under the Extended Transitional Housing program, LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness but who have experienced severe trauma and may require additional services, including mental or behavioral health counseling, will be allowed to access those services, provided by fully-licensed therapists, on-site.

Those residents will also have additional time — up to six years from the date of entry — to get their lives in order and develop life skills with the eventual goal of helping them achieve independence and long-term economic stability.

The Extended Transitional Housing program will be located at a third site in Southeast D.C., which has been obtained with the help of D.C. Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8). There will be 12 spots available in the program, with residents housed in six apartment-style accommodations.

Residents will have access to on-site clinical case-management offices that offer bilingual services in Spanish and English, as well as access to a computer lab and common gathering space where they can socialize with other residents.

Because nearly 40% of youth experiencing homelessness in D.C. identify as LGBTQ, SMYAL’s extended housing program seeks to meet some of that need, providing an affirming space for youth who might otherwise be forced to brave a shelter system or work with agencies that, in practice, demonstrate hostility toward LGBTQ individuals.

“SMYAL’s ETH program provides a foundation of consistency for LGBTQ youth in our area,” Elly Bludworth, the organization’s director of youth housing, said in a statement. “In our program, SMYAL meets the critical needs of youth by providing consistent trauma-informed care that recognizes the uphill battle many queer and trans youth face when experiencing homelessness. By meeting these needs and providing these services, SMYAL’s ETH program helps build stability from
which our youth can flourish.”

Related: SMYAL opens second house, with 14 additional beds, for LGBTQ homeless youth

Sultan Shakir, the executive director of SMYAL, helped lead efforts as part of the DC LGBTQ Coalition that advocated for, and eventually obtained, increased funding in the city’s budget for LGBTQ-specific programs, including extended transitional housing.

“The extended transitional housing program is for people who need more support,” Shakir told Metro Weekly in an interview. “In particular, when we’re talking about LGBTQ youth, we’re talking about: first, just dealing with trauma and anger and all the stress of just being a young, queer, homeless person.

“But then we’re also talking about educational attainment, job attainment, job readiness and some of those other life skills that may take longer than two years for someone to acquire in order to really be stable and independent.”

Shakir noted that there’s an assessment to determine which youth qualify for extended transitional housing versus the traditional transitional housing program, using the Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool, an assessment that has been developed for use by frontline workers at agencies working with homeless clients to determine which clients are in desperate need of services or other assistance and give them priority over others with less severe needs.

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Inside one of SMYAL’s youth houses – Photo: SMYAL.

D.C. has a policy called ‘No Wrong Door,’ which means if you are someone who is seeking homeless services, you should be able to go into any organization that provides homeless services and they can get you into the system, and the way they figure out the best place for you to go is this assessment tool,” Shakir said.

“And then you get a series of information about the person and then all of the providers will come together every other week and talk about new youth who come into the system. So a youth comes in they get an assessment. Then the organization will sit down with us and Sasha Bruce and Covenant House and all the other [housing providers] and say, ‘Here’s who’s on the list. Here are the programs we have that meet really high needs like extended transitional housing,’ and determine placement based on need.

“SMYAL’s ETH program allows us to serve more LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness than ever before. With this expansion, we will continue to meet residents where they are, greeting them with compassion, affirmation, and tailored support,” Shakir added. “We are proud that we are able to offer additional services, but we also know that there is always more work to be done, particularly in the current climate.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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