Nearly half of homeless youth are LGTBQ. OUTMemphis is doing something about it.

OUTMemphis could soon begin construction on an innovative shelter complex made out of shipping containers. Once completed, LGBTQ youth will be allowed to stay at the facility and receive wraparound services to help them make the next step to stability.

OUTMemphis, the Mid-South’s only LGBTQ community center, is about a year and a half into the launch of the Metamorphosis Project, which addresses LGBTQ youth homelessness in Memphis.

OUTMemphis youth services coordinator Stephanie Reyes said youth homelessness has been a concern for OUTMemphis throughout the organization’s 28-year history, due to the unfortunate frequency of LGBTQ youth expelled from their families for their gender and sexual identities.

“We are fulfilling a need in a couple of ways,” Reyes said. One of those ways is an innovative shelter made out of shipping containers. Once completed, LGBTQ youth will be allowed to stay at the facility and receive wraparound services to help them make the next step to stability.

“There are no other services for LGBT folks here in terms of homelessness. A lot of our (LGBTQ) youth are ostracized in shelters because they’re sex-segregated or they’re religious or you have to pay to get in; so, usually one of those three things, if not all of them, prevents (LGBTQ youth) from going to other emergency shelters or programs,” said Reyes.

“Someone who is chronically homeless has different needs than someone who just got kicked out of their house last night and they’ve never lived on the street and they don’t know how to manage that,” she added.

A design of the future Metamorphosis Project complex.

According to a national LGBTQ homeless youth provider survey fulfilled by the Williams Institute, 40 percent of the homeless youth population identifies as LGBTQ. When considering that 10 percent of youth identifies as LGBTQ, this population’s need for homeless services becomes stark.

The survey also found that youth typically experience severe family conflict as the primary reason for their homelessness. LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12. Sixty-two percent of LGBT homeless youth commit suicide, which is more than twice the rate for heterosexual homeless youth.

In Memphis, the primary goal of the Metamorphosis Project is to immediately house homeless LGBTQ youth. Reyes says the housing complex has not changed much from its original design unveiled last year, although the location has been changed.

OUTMemphis purchased three new pieces of land on Southern Avenue, exactly half mile away from the OUTMemphis center. The lots will be used for housing, parking and future expansion.

Some deviations from the original design include a porch with a ramp for accessibility as well as one bedroom and bathroom that are ADA accessible, increased storage capacity, a parlor for workshops, and a plan for covering the metal of the shipping containers, a change required by the Memphis and Shelby County Board of Adjustments for a residentially zoned property.

The building will house four people.

“We’ve gotten a lot of people who have needed emergency shelter lately,” Reyes said. “(This project) is not going to solve the problem, but it’s hopefully going to give homeless youth time and a safe space instead having to worry about a place to sleep every night.”

Homeless LGBTQ youth between the ages of 18 to 24 are eligible to stay in the housing project for thirty days on a first-come, first-served basis. A wait list will be kept for others seeking housing. While staying in the Southern Avenue space, the youth will also work with a staff member to plan next steps and look for permanent solutions, including OUTMemphis’ new rapid rehousing program.

Their rapid rehousing program will subsidize a portion of the rent for a year for 18 to 24-year-old LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. The first three months the rent is fully covered, next three months 75 percent of the rent is covered, then fifty and then twenty-five.

“I believe there is one other rapid rehousing program that is for parenting 18 to 24-year-olds but other than that there are no other services that are specific for youth between 18 and 24.

We’re providing a space where people know they are going to interact with youth and are trained to interact with youth of all backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities,” Reyes said.

OUTMemphis has been hosting clean up days on the new Southern Avenue property, but are primarily concerned with funding at this stage. In addition to looking for private donors and professionals like plumbers, contractors, and electricians to donate their services, they are applying for public and private grants.

Reyes says the timeline entirely depends on their fundraising.

“If we get all the grants we applied for, we could start building in the fall,” Reyes said.

“If we (receive) other grants, then maybe in the winter or early spring. If someone writes us a check for $200,00 tomorrow, then maybe we could start building next week. It really depends on money right now.”

The new construction will also include a drop-in center where 18 to 24 year olds, LGBTQ or not, will be provided with or referred to housing services. Workshops, including resume writing, life skills and group therapy will also be scheduled regularly in the property’s public area.

“Some other programs don’t know how to talk to a young person who has just been kicked out their home,” Reyes says.

“We’re just trying to give youth, especially LGBTQ youth, a space where they can be safe.”

A Facebook page will be going live soon to provided more regular updates. Donations of money, time, and furniture for the project and rapid rehousing program are needed.

Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer living in Memphis since 2008. They have also contributed writing and research for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, VICE News, and Choose901.