Riding the Rails on Christmas: Helping Homeless LGBTQIA Youth

He looks at my balled fist and opens his hand. I place a tightly folded twenty-dollar bill in it. He takes it, places his arms back into his shirt, and closes his eyes. A second young man walks to him and presses his knee to his leg, trying to wake him.

In the dead of winter in Chicago, an African-American male teen sits asleep on an L Train during an early morning rush hour commute. His clothes –  a white t-shirt which he folds his arms inside to shield them from the cold, and blue jeans – are stained with dirt. The tongues of his white laceless, well-worn gym shoes stand stiff. The muddy laces limp on the cold train’s wet rubber flooring. His dreadlocked hair is filled with lint and other debris. His face is bruised, tired, and sunk in. His skin is dry, muddied, and peeling. He is Homeless. He sits alone in the far back corner. The morning commuters board, frown at the mere sight of him, walk in the opposite direction, and sit. It is prudent to flee a scene that could pose a potential danger; however, much too often, young African-American men, even those who are immobile and, at times, sleeping, are seen as a monstrous threat by some. Nevertheless, I am also African-American, so when I look at him, I see my brother, my son, my father, my uncle. I sit across from him because I have a son and nephews who are young African-American men and in him, I see them. I pat his leg.   

His tired eyes open. “What!?” he says, his voice hoarse.

“Open your hand,” I say to him, my fist balled.  

“What?”

“Open your hand,” I, again, say. 

He looks at my balled fist and opens his hand. I place a tightly folded twenty-dollar bill in it. He takes it, places his arms back into his shirt, and closes his eyes. A second young man walks to him and presses his knee to his leg, trying to wake him. It appears as if he knows the first young man and was walking from car to car trying to find him. He sits beside him. It appears as if they are more than friends. It appears as if they are a same-sex couple. Looking at them, my mind races to a video I had recently watched that mentioned homeless gay and transgender African-American youth. In the video, titled Don Lemon to Kevin Hart: Walking away right now is your choice, CNN news anchor Don Lemon explains that according to the Center for American Progress, “forty percent of homeless gay youth are black and sixty-two percent of homeless transgender youth are black.” He then goes on to explain that “black people only make up 12 percent of the US population.” He further explains that within the African-American community, many “cosign homophobia.” As I look at the young black men before me, Lemon’s words fall in my mind like raindrops. I watch them. Then, I get off the train, leaving them behind. I think of them all day and wish I could have done more. That was close to a year ago. It is now December. In my merriment of basking in the joy of the Christmas season, the images of the young men haunt me. I know I could have done more. Now, through research, I know that I can do more. A simple web search of “Resources for Homeless LGBTQIA Youths” produced a treasure trove of information, groups, and organizations in Chicago that help LGBTQIA youth.

Notably, After School Matters, an organization that is geared towards helping Chicago teens, provides a detailed list of resources. I have provided that list here.  

Also, here is a list of other notable organizations:

1. Chicago Youth Homelessness – Project Fierce Chicago   

2. Chicago’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual – Center on Halsted      

3. LGBTQ Youth and Homelessness – Covenant House 

4. Homeless Services – Chicago of Chicago  

5. Housing – City of Chicago

If you would like to help homeless teens in your city or state, a simple web search of the phrase “Resources for Homeless LGBTQIA Youths” should produce similar results.   

Some teens come out to their loved ones and are met with acceptance, love, and a warm embrace. However, others come out to their loved ones and are rejected and forced from the only homes they have ever known into the streets, where they have to find shelter on a train, a bus station, an abandoned building, or under a bridge. This should not be so. Irrespective of race, or gender, or orientation, no child in America should have to live on the streets and fend for themselves. 

The holiday season is a time of year when loved ones jubilantly gather with warm hearts and hugs and exchange gifts in celebration of the season and family. This holiday season, in our jubilation, let us remember to be kind to those who are less fortunate. When we see homeless children, we should see them as our family. They are in need and we should act by helping them. In doing so, we should be mindful that some bear the burden far worse than others.

Every time I ride the train, I habitually look for those two young men. If I ever see them again, I will, again, say, “open your hand.” When they open them, I will place in their hands a tightly folded twenty-dollar bill and a card with a list of helpful resources. I will then ask them if they want me to explain the card. If they say “yes,” I will sit beside them and let them know that there are organizations full of people who will support and help them. If not, I will respect that decision, bless them, and wish them well, knowing that in their cold hands, beside a folded twenty-dollar bill, there is help.

Bibliography 

  1. After School Matters: ASM: Chicago Teen Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2020, from https://www.afterschoolmatters.org/
  2. Breaking News, Latest News and Videos. (2014, February 19). Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/
  3. Center on Halsted – Chicago’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Community Center. (n.d.). Retrieved December 08, 2020, from https://www.centeronhalsted.org/
  4. “Chicago Youth Homelessness.” Project Fierce Chicago, www.projectfiercechicago.com/chicago-youth-homelessness. 
  5. “Homeless Services.” City of Chicago :: Homeless Services, www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/fss/provdrs/emerg.html. 
  6. The issues. (n.d.). Retrieved December 08, 2020, from https://www.covenanthouse.org/homeless-issues/lgbtq-homeless-youth
  7. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/

Rental Assistance Program (RAP). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/fss/provdrs/serv/svcs/how_to_find_rentalassistanceinchicago.html


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