Life as a homeless or housing-insecure LGBTQ youth can be difficult, and holidays can be especially lonely. But thanks to four service organizations—Tony’s Place, Montrose Grace Place, Bering Open Gate, and Stand Up for Kids-Houston—local youth can have a happier holiday season. Special events will be held on December 21, 22, 23, 24, and 27.
There will be special parties, dinners, gifts, holiday films, karaoke, and more. Donations of time, food, presents, and money are being welcomed by the organizations to help them give the youth a memorable 2019 holiday.
Tony’s Place, named after the late Houston psychotherapist Tony Carroll, will sponsor a holiday dinner in their facility at 1621 McGowen on Saturday, December 21, from noon to 5:00 p.m.
Program assistant Alyssa Kelly says that a traditional buffet-style holiday meal with all the trimmings will be served to around 50 youth. The lunch will probably be donated by a local graduate school, as has been done in the past. The youth will help decorate a holiday tree at the beginning of December.
Tony’s Place, founded in 2015, works with homeless LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 25 and their allies. The average age is around 22. It also provides shower facilities for homeless youth at the Salvation Army dormitory next door.
After the meal, each of the youth will be given a special package with several gift items. They can spend the rest of the afternoon playing in a basketball tournament on an outdoor court, or working on art projects indoors. During the afternoon, holiday music will be playing, and a holiday movie such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or How the Grinch Stole Christmas will be shown in the facility.
Program coordinator James Valincano says that donations of time, food, clothing, gift items, or money are needed and welcomed from the community.
Open Gate Homeless Ministries
The Open Gate Homeless Ministries, located at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, 1440 Harold Street, will host a holiday dinner for homeless youth ages 18 to 30 on Sunday, December 22, from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. This year will mark the 13th holiday dinner provided by the organization.
Program director Damien Kelly says that around 30 percent of the youth identify as LGBTQ. Among them are transgender youth who are transitioning and youth who have their own young children. Kelly expects that Open Gate will serve the holiday dinner to about 80 youth. The dinner will be either a traditional holiday menu or a Hispanic dinner of tamales.
The meal is served family style with real place settings and holiday decorations to give the youth a feeling of home. A decorated tree will be in place in the church’s fellowship hall.
It will take five chefs and a coordinated volunteer effort to make the dinner possible. After the dinner, gifts will be handed out to the youth. This will be followed by a karaoke segment. A team of four volunteers will provide the sound equipment and the karaoke videos. “Last year, there were a lot of Beyoncé songs!” Kelly says.
Kelly welcomes volunteers to help with the dinner in many different capacities. Help will be needed for several days leading up to the holiday meal. The organization also appreciates gifts or monetary donations.
Gifts that will be given out include backpacks, black crew socks, no-show black socks, fleece twin-size blankets, lightweight blankets, underwear, journals or composition books, cell-phone chargers, snacks, and gift cards for Metro, Kroger, McDonald’s, or Jack in the Box. Toys for toddlers and Pampers are also needed for youth with young children.
Dynasty Jolivette, 27 years old, is looking forward to her first holiday at Open Gate. “I expect it will be wonderful. It is so good that people are willing to help trans women, and I really need the help and appreciate it. I’m very thankful.”
Kelly says the Open Gate clothing closet needs heavy winter clothes and jackets because forecasts are calling for some cold winter months in 2020.
Montrose Grace Place
Housed at Kindred, 2515 Waugh Drive, Montrose Grace Place (MGP) will be hosting holiday celebrations for its tenth year. Founded in 2009, the organization provides a safe space for homeless youth ages 13 to 21. 50 percent of the youth are LGBTQ.
MGP program director Courtney Sellers says that on Monday night, December 23, the organization will hold their annual holiday party beginning at 7:00 p.m. Plans have been made for an evening meal for 35 youth, followed by the party. The youth will each receive a special holiday stocking with decorative marking pens that they can use to personalize it.
The stockings are an annual gift from one of the MGP volunteers, who fills them with jars of homemade fig jam, candy, and fast-food gift cards. MGP then adds Metro bus passes and gifts such as earbud sets to each stocking.
MGP holds a special community event in early December, when anyone can come to Kindred and write holiday messages and sign holiday cards that will be distributed to the youth at the party.
After the dinner, each of the youth will receive a holiday gift from MGP which they can keep or trade with the other attendees. Gifts are wrapped for males, females or gender non-binary youth, and range from bath sets to basketballs and comfort pants.
“Aaliyah,” a Grace Place participant who has been homeless, explains how important the holiday events are. “It has given me a place to go for every holiday. I enjoy the holiday party so much because it gives me the holiday cheer and puts me in the holiday spirit each and every time.”
“Malik” also looks forward to enjoying the holiday party with his friends. “We surround each other with laughter and talk about what we love most. I really like coming together and enjoying the holidays.”
In early December, MGP holds its annual gingerbread-house contest. A team of three people can participate by donating $30 to the organization. A basic gingerbread house and standard decorating tools are supplied to each team. Teams can bring additional themed decorations, such as last year’s prize-winning Barbie dream house. Twenty-five teams joined in on the competition in 2018. This year, the judging panel will include local drag-queen celebrities.
Sellers says that donations in any form are welcomed from anyone who wants to help the youth have a warm and happy holiday.
Stand Up for Kids-Houston
On Tuesday, December 24, Stand Up for Kids-Houston will hold a street outreach event from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. to find homeless youth in the Montrose area who are without a home or are housing-insecure. Care packages of cold-weather clothing and food will be distributed to approximately 30 youth.
The organization is now in its 12th year of operation, and works with youth up to age 24. Executive Director Joshua Ramos says that about half of the youth they serve identify as LGBTQ.
On Friday, December 27, the organization will hold a holiday party for around 20 youth at their drop-in center at 1827 West Alabama, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. A holiday dinner will be served, and gifts will be given to the youth.
Reaching Out beyond the Holidays
All four organizations work with LGBTQ homeless youth throughout the year, and the directors hold a quarterly “round-up” meeting to keep each other informed about everything that is being done to help homeless youth.
The organizations have also agreed to provide their services on different days of the week, so that youth can take advantage of outreach activities throughout the week.
This article appears in the December 2019 issue of OutSmart magazine.