With many young adults struggling to pay rent during the pandemic, a Durham nonprofit is adapting to provide the housing support and mental health resources needed now more than ever.

Since June 2019, the LGBTQ Center of Durham’s Host Home Program has screened and trained community volunteers to host 18-to-24-year-olds, particularly those who are LGBTQ and people of color. As the volunteers provide them with shelter for up to six months, the program offers them case-management services and connects them with resources like therapy and job counseling in order to help them achieve long-term stability.

When the pandemic hit, social worker and Host Home Program Director KC Buchanan said program staff felt they could not in good conscience ask the community to assume the health risks of opening up their homes, especially to young adults who are trying to go out and search for employment. So, the program stopped formally seeking out host home pairings.

“But what we are doing is: We will support folks if they come to those matches organically in the community,” Buchanan says. “We had someone recently who came to us and said, ‘I’ve met this person who’s going to take me in,’ and we decided to jump in and support that match, much like we would any other host home.”

The program has always prioritized mental health support, contracting therapeutic providers from marginalized groups in order to match the identities and experiences of the participants, Buchanan says. One silver lining of the pandemic is that these providers are now working virtually, so they can see more clients.

And with fewer formal host pairings, case managers can take on clients in need of less comprehensive assistance and more individual support, like emotional check-ins or help finding a place to live. This has allowed the addition of nine young adults to the usual five-client maximum. 

The program is receiving many requests for help from young adults facing evictions and aggravated housing instability, particularly from those who are people of color and LGBTQ. 

“They’re focused on surviving right now, and that has been a trend since the beginning of this program,” Buchanan said. 

Tiz Giordano, a community organizer in Chapel Hill and an essential worker at Weaver Street Market, and their spouse were independently hosting a Latinx trans person when the Host Home Program started up. They were able to transition this young adult into the program so they could obtain the professional support they needed. 

“Having that available meant so much to me as a community member,” Giordano says.

Giordano, who has experienced homelessness, said factors that play into LGBTQ housing insecurity include high barriers to support services, racism, transphobia within the LGBTQ community, and families who don’t affirm their children’s identities. 

“I didn’t know how to write a check until I was at least 27 years old,” they say. “These things that affirming families teach their children, teach them how to survive in the world. I didn’t get those things.” 

Anti-violence advocate Christy Croft said homeless people and LGBTQ people both face an increased risk of sexual violence and trafficking.

“So, when you put those two together, there’s just a lot of vulnerability,” they say. “And the vulnerability is not because of anything about the individual. The vulnerability is because of our systems not being set up to support people properly.”

In homeless shelters, LGBTQ people might face homophobic and transphobic bullying from fellow residents, Croft says. Plus, some faith-based shelters don’t have an anti-discrimination policy and will only take in LGBTQ residents if they hide who they are. 

“We need better options,” Croft says.

Buchanan says the Host Home Program is intentionally tailored to the needs of young adults who are queer, trans, and people of color. 

“I’m very proud of the way that we have stepped in to fill this need,” Buchanan says. “And I just want folks to know that we are here to support every need that we can in the community.”

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