Advocates for Homeless Youth Flock to Nest

An Garagiola | Editor in Chief

From left to right: Qamar Saadiq Saoud, Kelly Brazil, Rocki Simões. Photo by Jacob Bernier
From left to right:
Qamar Saadiq Saoud, Kelly Brazil, Rocki Simões.
Photo by Jacob Bernier

On Oct. 13 The Nest was packed to hear three experts talk about issues surrounding LGBTQ youth homelessness. Panelists included Qamar Saadiq Saoud, a Therapy Fellow with Reclaim!, and a 2015 Recipient of Century College’s Gender and Social Change Award; Rocki Simões, Program Manager and creator of the GLBT Host Home Program at Avenues for Homeless Youth; and Kelly Brazil, a case manager also with Avenues’ host home program.

The panel experts were asked nine questions. After a brief break, there was an audience Q&A.  During the discussion, they talked about the inequities surrounding power and oppression. They also spoke truth about systemic injustices like poverty and racism. Despite these hard topics, the overall message they brought with them was one of hope and justice.

Formerly a homeless youth, Saoud told his personal story. As someone who works closely with youth, he discussed the current situation. He talked about how young people, especially trans and gender non-conforming youth– particularly those of color– experiencing homelessness are harassed; often targets of violence by both others experiencing homelessness, and profiling by police. “It’s perspective,” he explained. Privileged people often underestimate those who have less than them.

Simões and Brazil shared that they have known each other for 25 years. They kept the audience captivated with their casual banter, which really lightened the atmosphere surrounding an otherwise heavy conversation.

While Saoud was experiencing homelessness, Simões was his case manager. “I really like the full circle thing we have going here right now,” Simões said when they revealed the connection.

Simões impressed upon the audience several times that although family rejection is a problem, it’s not the only cause of homelessness among LGBTQ Youth. “The narrative’s a little more complicated than just dealing with family rejection,” she said.

The Nest filled up quickly with students and faculty.  Photo by Jacob Bernier
The Nest filled up quickly with students and faculty.
Photo by Jacob Bernier

She further explained, “Certainly 20 years ago when we first started talking about LGBTQ homelessness, the only story that was being told was about family rejection. So conversations around the paths to homelessness and systemic oppression were not really part of the conversation like they are today. Therefore, the only responsible thing to do is, love! Right? Love and acceptance. Both love and acceptance are great. We need it, absolutely. And we need a lot more of that. But we need more than love and acceptance.”

Resources to fund programs are always needed, according to the panel. Saoud said after a boom in the number of resources in the early part of the century, during that the Great Recession, programs for LGBTQ youth were often amongst the first things agencies cut.

Simões is a licensed social worker through the state of MN, and brought up the lack of diversity amongst what she describes as, “A lot of white social workers,” in the state. She said there is also a need for more discussions around power and privilege, and more continued education for professionals about issues affecting the LGBTQ community, especially among social workers.

In keeping with the message of hope and progress, the panelists highlighted the increased social acceptance of LGBTQ visibility.

“We have always been here,” Saoud said of trans visibility. He continued, “In every place, under different names, in different communities, within your families. People are beginning to look at the reality that we’ve always been here. I think it’s time we are recognized as part of humanity and we have human rights.”

Disclaimer: The author of this article was a co-host of this panel.