In 2017, a study about youth homelessness by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago revealed that up to 40% of young people experiencing homelessness is part of the LGBTQ+ community. One of the shocking statistics of the study was that LGBT youth were at a 120% higher risk for homelessness. Organizations like New Alternatives serve as a sign of hope for many of these Queer individuals, especially this past year throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Founded in 2008, New Alternatives is a multi-service drop-in center for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults, with services that include case management, meals, psychotherapy, HIV/AIDS testing, and most recently, COVID vaccines. Kate Barber, founder and director, was inspired to create this non-profit organization after several years of working as a director at Sylvia’s Place, an emergency shelter for LGBTQ+ youth.
Kate had noticed that case management was often tied to housing, as youth moved to different housing programs often. With most programs lasting only 30 days, they would have to restart the process of working with a new case manager. “There was no continuity,” Kate shares, something New Alternatives aims to resolve through long-term, consistent case management. Blending her knowledge for harm reduction and experience in drop-in centers, Kate knew she wanted to focus on the youth, a demographic that is often kicked out of programs that may not know how to help them, leaving many without resources to create long-lasting change.
The pandemic created many uncertainties this past year, but one thing remained true: New Alternatives’ focus on continuing to serve its community. Despite the lack of resources for homeless individuals, Kate and her team adapted many of their services to fit with the times, from turning their Sunday dinners into pick-up food drives or offering counseling services outside.
As they navigate the new normal, New Alternatives is on the frontlines of a new issue—finding housing or solutions for people who are getting kicked out of the hotel housing provided by the state during COVID-19. Currently, advocates are fighting to keep people in hotels or find them new housing instead of putting them back into shelters. In addition, they are focused on finding the resources they need to keep them protected; latest statistics show that only 14% of the homeless population is vaccinated.
Thirteen years after its inception, New Alternatives continues to fulfill its mission of providing tools for homeless youth and young adults to transition out of the shelter system and into stable adult lives. Kate has hired past clients and individuals that have been part of the shelter system.
“They serve as role models for our clients,” Kate says, explaining how they inspire other people going through homelessness to realize that they too can make it out.
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