Transgender youth are 120% more at risk of being homeless compared to their non LGBTQIA+ peers, a 2017 study finds. The Thrive Center in San Antonio is working to change that.
LGBTQ+ youth are at much higher risk of homelessness compared to their peers. The Thrive Center in San Antonio works to house and stabilize that population. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Thrive Center, which provides emergency shelter and long-term housing for homeless LGBTQ+ people ages 18-24, just received nearly $910,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which annually provides funding for programs in Bexar County aimed at reducing homelessness.

The young adults they serve have been showing increased anxiety since Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state child welfare officials to launch child abuse investigations into parents who seek gender-affirming care for their transgender kids, said center founder and executive director Sandra Whitley.

While the age group the Thrive Center serves is too old to be investigated by Child Protective Services, their lack of secure housing is all too common. LGBTQ+ young people are 120% more at risk for homelessness than their peers, according to a 2017 study.

Point-in-time counts, which measure sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night, over the past several years show transgender and gender non-conforming individuals of all ages experience homelessness at higher rates than their cisgender peers, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The group reports the number of adult transgender individuals experiencing homelessness has increased 88% since 2016, while unsheltered homelessness — defined as staying in a place not meant for human habitation, like cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings — increased 113% during the same period.

Whitley said instead of scrutinizing families attempting to secure gender-affirming care for their transgender kids, more awareness should be paid of trans youth being kicked out of their homes, which puts them in real danger.

“Throwing them out on the street … is abuse,” Whitley said.

This year, HUD awards for homelessness prevention in Bexar County totaled more than $14 million, nearly $1.3 million more than usual.

“This is by far the largest increase we’ve seen from one year to the next in our history,” said Katie Vela, CEO of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, which applies for the HUD grants each year on behalf of San Antonio and Bexar County. “Usually, when we perform well, we see it go up by about a half a million.”

The money will be allocated to 26 different projects in the area managed by various organizations, including San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries (SAMM), Haven for HopeRoy Maas Youth Alternatives and Thrive Youth Center.

As the coordinating agency for the region, Vela said, the alliance completes a collaborative application, outlining organizations’ progress on partnerships, performance, and coordination with the city and county.

“We also submit a ranking of projects that we recommend for funding locally,” she said. “Our annual award goes up every year based on how competitive we are and that helps us get access to the bonus funds that are available.”

This year, for example, HUD awarded SAMM more than $4.8 million for its housing programs, including additional funding for permanent supportive housing, which pairs housing with support services, and a rapid rehousing program for people fleeing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking.

Thrive Youth Center first received a HUD award in 2017. “They did a great job with their application and showed the unmet need,” Vela said, “and got grant funding for rapid rehousing.”

That first round of HUD funding, about $350,000, was a “game-changer,” said Whitley, who at the time was one of just three employees at the center.

“It was a big relief, because not only were we able to help young adults get into their own apartments, but it enabled us to hire a case manager, a life skills manager and a housing program manager,” Whitley said. “That really made a huge difference.”

Sandra Whitley, the founder and executive director of Thrive Center, stands in the room that will soon hold more emergency beds for LGBTQ+ young adults, plus a communal space for life skills learning.
Sandra Whitley, founder and executive director of Thrive Center, stands in a room that will soon hold more emergency beds for LGBTQ+ young adults, plus a communal space for life skills learning. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

The initial HUD grant allowed Thrive to apply for and receive other grants; getting HUD money lends a sense of credibility to an organization, she said.

Now Thrive has 14 emergency beds reserved for LGBTQ youth at Haven and houses about 45 more in apartments across the city each year. This year’s HUD grant will cover the cost of housing 20 youths; it receives other grants to house the remaining 25. About half of the young adults in Thrive housing identify as LGBTQ, Whitley said — taking HUD money means the center cannot discriminate based on gender identity or sexuality.

“We’re able to assist with rent for a year and provide all the wraparound services … and basic necessities,” Whitley said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org