The issue of LGBT youth homelessness may be all the rage in media coverage, but the drastic problem is not new. One Houston teen is telling his story to highlight the issue and help scores of others.
Kristopher Sharp (photo) is social worker, advocate and a self-proclaimed survivor and changer of the world. He earned those titles on the streets of Montrose after he says he was relegated to homelessness as a product of the Texas foster care system. It was a harsh reality, he writes.
My life was reduced to two pairs of cloths, a well-worn backpack, and the streets. By day, I begged strangers for their change; and by night, I was turning tricks for a place to stay, a shower, a hot meal, or whatever resources I could trade my body for.
That was my reality.
Sharp’s story is not uncommon. Across the U.S., some 75 percent of LGBT teens – turned out more often because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – resort to prostitution within 72 hours of hitting the streets, according to the Center for American Progress.
Opening up about his experience – and how he escaped homelessness – has garnered Sharp national attention. He retold the tale in the Chronicle for True Colors Fund's 40 to None Day on April 29. The day shines a light on the statistic that 40 percent of homeless teens are LGBT. There are a host of special circumstances that make the situation so desperate for LGBT youth.
In Houston, the stats mean that on any given night, dozens upon dozens of LGBT teens are on the streets. The Montrose Center launched a program this year to specifically address the issue. The center heads up a coalition of groups with the goal to end LGBT youth homelessness in five years.
For his part, the 23-year-old Sharp graduates from UH-Downtown this month. He’s testified before Congress and won awards for his homeless gay teen advocacy. Five years after waking up under a Houston overpass, he doesn’t want society to forget those kids, as he never will.
I wasn't a lost cause, a degenerate, or a waste of space. I was a human being, a person, and a youth, who because of my life's circumstances ended up on the streets. But with the right opportunity, I was able to surpass those circumstances and accomplish so much in such a short period of time. …
Yes, at one point in my young life I was homeless, but by the grace of God I am now a strong, resilient and intelligent contributing member of my community.
I am worth something — and so is every other homeless youth. …
I share my story to tell you that there is hope, there is life after homelessness, and our lives do matter. We are the future. Invest in us, value us, recognize our worth, and watch us soar to unimaginable heights.
Follow Kristopher Sharp on Twitter.