On Tuesday morning we met with Hollywood Arts, an organization that provides free arts classes for homeless youth. We spoke to Mira, the director of student arts, and to Drian Juarez, a transwoman who works for Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center doing job outreach for the transgender community. We were fortunate enough to have an informal discussion with them about the importance of arts education, especially for young people who have not necessarily had the opportunity to express themselves in a creative way. Mira, a huge advocate for arts education, shared some success stories about young people who came through Hollywood Arts and not only learned to perform or create various works of art, but also learned useful skills such as respect, engaging with others, and self-control. Then Drian discussed her experience as a transgender woman, telling us her story of how she ended up in Los Angeles working for such an important and successful organization. What she shared with us about her personal life story was disheartening, as it underlined what we have learned to be true about the difficulties facing a majority of the trans community. But it was also inspiring, as she was able to succeed, transforming her past experiences into valuable life lessons, which gives hope to many others facing various obstacles in life. Furthermore, having learned and talked about the trans community prior to and throughout the trip, I believe it was important and useful to have met an actual person who identifies as transgender. After we met with Mira and Drian at Hollywood Arts, we went to Dream Center, an organization based in faith that does outreach and provides support as well as a list of references to homeless people. At the Dream Center, we talked to two volunteers, Keenan and David, who spoke about their own experiences that led them to become Dream Center volunteers. Then, we went to Venice Beach with Keenan and David to hand out food and water to homeless people who were there. That was a very valuable experience that inspired an extremely long and important debrief session that night. After working with the Dream Center, we headed to a Princeton alumni dinner, where we were able to talk to alumni in the Los Angeles area, as well as the students from the other Breakout Trip that was staying in LA. This trip as a whole has been an invaluable experience. I have learned so much about the LGBT community, as well as homelessness in general. There is so much to take back with me and to share with others.
Thursday, we returned to Hollywood Arts to participate in one of the improv classes they offer to the youth they serve. Here, Danny plays an improv game with Courtney, who is enrolled in HA’s program. Hilarity ensued.
Our last night in LA we assisted Dr. Nick of CHLA with street outreach. Carrying sandwiches, water bottles, socks, snacks, and bags of hygiene products, we walked around West Hollywood distributing these things to the youth we encountered. Dr. Nick has been doing this outreach for 25 years, and was able to share how he’s seen the landscape change in that time. We were all struck by the trans visibility on the street, as well as the friendly demeanor of the people we encountered. The group hug instigated by Dr. Nick at the end of the night was a perfect cap to a night that touched us all emotionally and mentally.
Covenant House was an impressive and inspiring stop on Thursday. The organization has shelters across the US, as well as locations in Latin America. Their pragmatic approach to youth homelessness, with a strong sense of what their organization could and couldn’t do, made our group think about the bounds of service and the necessity of knowing when to refer people elsewhere.
The Children’s Hospital of LA doe incredible work with LGBT youth. We met with Bamby Salcedo, who works in adolescent sexual health and education. She described the hardships of being trans and homeless, highlighting the danger of misinformation and self-medication (e.g. buying hormones off the street). The empowerment programs she runs are incredible, especially the Angels of Change calendar she puts together.
The rainbow banners that line the front of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center on Schrader Blvd. The LAGLC has a total of five locations around LA, including the Jeff Griffith Youth Center.
On Wednesday, we visited the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, the world’s largest LGBT organization. We were all impressed by the scope and accessibility of their services, ranging from LGBT homeless youth services to a free HIV clinic. Many of the community partners we met with praised the LAGLC as a model of homeless youth outreach and service.
To get a better understanding of the challenges homeless youth face, our group split into family groups, mimicking the tight knit communities youth form on the streets. The family groups set out on a scavenger hunt, tasked with things like finding the address for the Jeff Griffith Youth Center and asking for money to buy a Metro pass. Here, Celina poses in front of a gender-neutral bathroom, an important space for some trans youth.