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San Diego No Exception For LGBT Youth Homelessness Risks

The Sunburst Youth Housing Project in downtown San Diego is seen here on Aug. 16, 2016.
Andrew Bowen
The Sunburst Youth Housing Project in downtown San Diego is seen here on Aug. 16, 2016.

San Diego No Exception For LGBT Youth Homelessness Risks
In an effort to address that problem, the LGBT Community Center opened up the Sunburst Youth Housing Project in 2006.

Numerous national surveys have found lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are at a disproportionate risk of homelessness. A study released in 2012 by UCLA's Williams Institute estimated as much as 40 percent of young homeless people identify as LGBT — despite them making up an estimated 7 percent of the general population.

San Diego area media outlets are teaming up on Aug. 17 to bring a spotlight on homelessness. Organizing media partners include KPBS, Voice of San Diego and San Diego CityBeat.

Those statistics are about the same in San Diego, according to Rebekah Hook-Held, director of public affairs at the San Diego LGBT Community Center.

"San Diego as a city is extremely diverse," she said. "There's a multitude of cultures, religions, family dynamics going on. But San Diego County also has a plethora of other cities, and they're not nearly as welcoming and as safe for students."

Hook-Held said when LGBT youth have a difficult family environment, they often turn to their school for acceptance — but that many find bullying instead. Those conditions, coupled with higher risks of depression and suicide, make LGBT youth one of the most vulnerable demographics.

In an effort to address that problem, the LGBT Community Center opened up the Sunburst Youth Housing Project in 2006. The a 23-unit apartment building downtown was built specifically for LGBT and HIV-positive youth, many of whom don't feel safe or comfortable at homeless shelters serving the general population.

Sarah Merk-Benitez, community programs coordinator at The Center, said many of the LGBT homeless youth she encounters have "stories of them coming out to families and then actually being kicked out of their homes."

"Or finding out that they're (HIV) positive and families not understanding what that means, and so actually asking them to leave as well," she added.

The Sunburst Youth Housing Project operates on funding from the federal government, administered by the San Diego Housing Commission, and donations from corporations, foundations and individuals. The Center also operates a drop-in center in Hillcrest for LGBT youth.