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Quality of Life

New North County 'village' opens for LGBTQ+ youths experiencing homelessness

A new “village” to address homelessness among LGBTQ-plus youths in Vista is now open. It’s the only one of its kind in North County. KPBS North County reporter Alexander Nguyen was invited for an exclusive look.

After months of efforts between the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, Casas de Luz and the Palomar Unitarian Church, Unicorn Villages officially opened on Tuesday.

It's a program for LGBTQ+ youth ages 18 to 29 who are or are about to experience homelessness. The North County LGBTQ Resource Center already operates Unicorn Homes, but that program is for teens 14 and up.

Last year, the city of San Diego opened a 45-bed shelter for LGBTQ+ youths experiencing homelessness, but this is the first program of its kind in North County.


It addresses a critical need in the region, said Max Disposti, executive director for the North County LGBTQ Resource Center.

"We're having young adults coming, literally with a backpack, and we didn't know what to do," he said. "It really comes from a need because there are zero spaces and resources for LGBTQ very young adults here in North San Diego County."

Because of that, he said, sometimes these youths are forced to stay at a shelter where they don't feel welcome. According to a UCLA study, 40% of youths experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+. In San Diego County, there are more than 2,000 youth experiencing homelessness, according to San Diego Youth Services.

“It was developed as transitional housing to keep our youth from winding up on the streets,” said Jennifer Ianoale, director of Unicorn Homes and Villages.

Data shows that one of the most common reasons LGBTQ+ youths end up on the streets is family rejection.

Two of the cottages at Unicorn Villages in Vista, March 26, 2024.
Alexander Nguyen
Two of the cottages at Unicorn Villages in Vista, March 26, 2024.

The village consists of five cottages. Inside, there's a bed, a microwave and a nightstand. Ianoale said it's meant to feel homey.

"To give the kids some dignity, some independence, to not just have to be in a shelter and staying on a cot,” she said.

More cottages are planned in the near future. The cottages, classified as sleeping cottages, were built by Casas De Luz and a team of volunteers. Casas De Luz has built many of them in Mexico and until a recent change in the law, they were not allowed in California.

Vista Deputy Mayor Katie Melendez said the cottages represent the beginning of something bigger.

“We have parking lots throughout the city that can accommodate this type of quality, positive, village-like housing settings for people who are in need,” she said. "I think it's a great model because within these 25 small parking spots, we actually accommodate five little cottages for people to live in, and it can transform their lives."

After being accepted in Unicorn Villages, youths can stay up to six months while working with a case manager to find stable housing. Disposti said the length of stay varies.

"For some folks, they just need a week, a few days. For some, it's a little bit longer," he said.

During their stay, Ianoale said these youths also have access to life skill coaching and mental health resources.

"So once they leave here, they could thrive," she said.

For more information on Unicorn Homes and Villages, visit

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