A proposal from a gay-friendly Houston lawmaker will help study homeless teens and is being hailed as a big win by LGBT activists, even if the measure doesn't specifically mention gays.
House Bill 679 from state Rep. Sylvester Turner (photo) – a Democrat and LGBT ally who returned this week from the now-done legislative session ready to run for mayor – says the bill will apply to all homeless teens, including LGBT ones.
Turner said the study would take a “holistic” look at homeless youth, including who they are and why they’re on the street. He said homeless youth are more susceptible to sex trafficking than any other group.
“There are schools within my district that have washers and dryers at the schools because there are kids who are homeless and don’t have a place to wash their clothes,” Turner said. “There is a need out there, but the depth of that need and whether or not we have adequate services to respond appropriately, we don’t really know. ”
Turner also stressed that the bill applies to all homeless youth, not just those who are LGBT.
“It doesn’t matter whether a child is black or white, Jew or gentile,” he said. “The reality is, these are our children, and I think we have a responsibility to create an environment and a society that gives all of our children an opportunity to succeed and live and prosper.”
Turner's legislation calls on the Department of Housing & Community Affairs, along with the Texas Interagency Council for the Homeless, to count the number of homeless teens in the state, examine their needs and develop a strategic plan to address the issue and pay for solutions. A final report would be due Dec. 1, 2016.
The bill was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature on Saturday. A spokesperson said Tuesday that the bill is still being reviewed.
LGBT activists said the bill would help tackle the complex issues behind homeless gay teens.
Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said although the bill doesn’t specifically mention it, he’s confident the study would include information about whether homeless youth are LGBT. Either way, Equality Texas backs the measure and considers it one of the few pro-LGBT bills to ever pass the Legislature.
“Anything that can be done to better serve homeless youth is an LGBT issue,” Williams said.
During an April 15 hearing on Turner's legislation, officials from Thrive Youth Center in San Antonio – the only LGBT-specific homeless shelter in the state – testified in favor of Turner's legislation.
Earlier this year, a coalition of 60 groups and agencies across Harris County, led by the gay Montrose Center, launched a five-step initiative to end homelessness among LGBT youth by 2020.
“One objective of NEST is to identify successful strategies for intervening early to address conflict in the home,” Deb Murphy, youth specialist at the Montrose Center, said when the effort was launched in January. “In the event that it’s not safe and appropriate for the youth to remain in the home, then we also want to ensure that all service providers are able to work with the youth in an inclusive and affirming manner.”
Homeless LGBT teens beg for change, turn tricks and fight for survival on the streets of Montrose. Sadly it's not uncommon, as the story of gay teen Kristopher Sharp shows.