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Salvation Army Opens Doors to Homeless LGBTQ Youth

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Christian charity with record of discrimination partners with Tony’s Place to serve vulnerable population.

By Marene Gustin

According to the True Colors Fund, some 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. In Houston, that translates into a few hundred LGBTQ kids living on the streets every day. And that’s why Tony’s Place and the Salvation Army’s Young Adult Resource Center (YARC) are joining forces to help serve this population.

“It’s a nice, new collaboration,” says YARC program manager Rafael Sarango. “It’s important not to duplicate services.”

The two organizations now share space at 1621 McGowen St., next to the Salvation Army’s Family Residence women and children’s shelter. YARC, which opened in 2012, connects homeless youth ages 18 to 25 with housing, education, and job training. Tony’s Place, which started last year and is named for the late Tony Carroll, previously operated a drop-in center in Montrose for LGBTQ youth, offering hot meals, showers, laundry, clothing, and computer use.

“We started working with YARC early on, before we even opened,” says Al Amado, board chairman for Tony’s Place. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, we asked them for help.”

The Salvation Army, a Christian-based international organization, has not always had a good relationship with the LGBTQ community.

In 1998, the Salvation Army of the United States turned down $3.5 million in contracts from the City of San Francisco due to a requirement that City contractors provide benefits to same-sex partners of employees. In 2004, the Salvation Army of New York City threatened to end its services over a similar regulation. Salvation Army organizations in other countries, notably Scotland and New Zealand, have made headlines over LGBTQ discrimination. And as recently as 2014, a transgender woman was refused housing by the Salvation Army because she hadn’t gone through gender reassignment surgery.

“But, like anything else—except maybe the Texas Legislature—the times are changing,” Amado said. “There was some concern among the board, and even myself, when we started this collaboration. But we started delving into the organization and realized they were being more inclusive. Locally, they said they really wanted to help this population.”

Sarango noted that the Salvation Army’s mission statement pledges that the organization will serve all without discrimination.

“I have been to national conferences to talk about our work, and I was shocked to see how the organization is so embracing of all people,” Sarango said. “In Texas in particular, the leadership has become amazing and accepting. But it can be a struggle to get everyone on board. We hear it. Every year on Facebook, we get people saying ‘don’t donate.’ We just try to keep going and do what we can to change the perception.”

Sarango said he’s currently working with a homeless trans girl because no other shelters would take her. He also said half of his staff identifies as LGBTQ.

“I worked with a homeless teen recently, and when I asked her why she was on the streets, she said it was because she was a lesbian,” Sarango said. “And I told her, ‘No, it’s because your parents don’t understand.’”

Major Kent Davis, area commander for the Salvation Army of Greater Houston, said that through their partnership with Tony’s Place, the organization “will be able to provide more services to the young adults who reach out to us for help.”

YARC is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and Tony’s Place operates from noon to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine. 

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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