Leading with ‘Pride’ and Purpose

YouthCare’s Ravenna House and ‘Independence, Security, Initiative, Success’ program serves LGBTQ+ homeless youth via teamwork and leaders intent on changing lives — By Bob Condor

Any fan who studies a hockey game, looking beyond the score, will quickly surmise basic tenets required for team success. You notice multiple shifts of players skating on and off the ice, frequently without any stoppage in play.

There are forward lines must establish chemistry, same for defensive pairs. Then those two groups, three forwards and two defensemen, need to play as a unit of five to carry out a plan while overcoming the advances of the opposing team.

Goaltenders represent a different entry point, standing alone, stepping up to make big saves. But it doesn’t take long to realize the goalie is constantly communicating, verbally and non-verbally, with teammates to both help keep pucks out of net and support teammates to prosper on the offensive end of the rink.

All of which prompts an apt comparison between a hockey team and the ISIS program staff at Ravenna House, established by YouthCare nearly 25 years as the first housing initiative in Washington to focus on the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth between 18 and 22 years old.  ISIS stands for Independence, Security, Initiative and Success—all vital qualities and aspirations for supporting homeless youth to discover themselves and a better life.

YouthCare, a community partner with One Roof Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena, has worked as a positive force in the Seattle area youth homeless space since its founding in 1974. Ravenna House remains one of only LGBTQ+ housing charters in the region.

Leaders like Kaleb Blackford, Bella Bowman, Antonio Rodriguez and RJ Solomon, who all work directly and daily with LGBTQ+ youth, plus in collaboration with one another–similar to those forwards, defenders and goalies all coming together for a common cause. It requires each leader and their colleagues to step in and step up as situations present themselves.

These leaders represent how and why YouthCare makes a difference in young people’s lives, in this case those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other orientations. For those not sure and/or uncertain about asking, “queer” is a term widely used and interchangeable with LGBTQ+ in conversation. All four YouthCare colleagues are invited guests for Saturday’s “Pride Night presented by Symetra” game against Calgary (4 p.m. puck drop) at Climate Pledge Arena.

One in three homeless youth in King County identify as LGBTQ+ and the number is 40 percent nationally, though LGBTQ+ youth number three to five percent of the U.S. population. It adds up `to being twice as likely for LGBTQ+ youth to be homeless, two times more likely to experience sexual assault and seven times more likely to victim of a crime. One factor in these harrowing statistics is LGMTQ+ teens are frequently kicked out of their homes due to their sexual identification.

Blackford, program manager for Ravenna House, says King County officials conduct a weekly call with service organizations to submit new names to the youth homeless pool of “clients” and what housing facilities might have open spaces for those homeless youth. That’s the formalized system of referral. YouthCare gets plenty of individual referrals, for example, by other homeless youth.

“It might be word of mouth, someone comes in to say ‘hey, I need help,’ says Solomon, director of the University District Youth Center, a YouthCare drop-in facility. “From there, we try to meet what the client needs, maybe hygiene to start, a shower, new pairs of shoes, rain jacket.”

“Then we make goals that are steppingstones to stability and independence. “Independence is a big one. At 18 to 25 years old, it can be seen as a lot of pressure with odds and barriers stacked up against you. Our job is to make those obstacles disappear. It’s up to us to know what the resources.”

Solomon says a common experience is the LGBTQ+ youth “using pronouns for first time, dressing the way they want to dress for the first time, using their chosen names, finding the space to discover themselves.”

Vital to the process is gaining trust. As an employer engagement specialist, Bowman says “building rapport” is paramount to their work.

“I might say, ‘it’s awesome you want a job but let’s get to know each other, schedule multiple meetings’ “ says Bowman. “It does take a long time for you to trust us, days, weeks or even months, it depends. But it so cool to see that barrier break down.”

Part of the challenge, says Bowman, and her colleagues agree, is the teens stepping inside YouthCare programs and facilities have faced family trauma or being previously trafficked or sexual abuse or “trusted other people who let them down.”

Achieving gainful employment for their clients affords the independence, security, initiative and success but presents its own set of work-throughs.

“Employment can take weeks or months, especially if a client has been harassed,” says Antonio Rodriguez, engagement specialist supervisor. “There is a fear of being misgendered. Our main focus is ‘will this client be safe at this position or with this company?‘ ”

“Maybe the client has worked for a big company in a place not as queer-affirming as Seattle, being misgendered time and time again, their dead name being said time and time again,” said Bowman.  “One of my main things is to constantly make sure we work with queer-affirming businesses.”

“We need employers to be trauma-informed. It’s not just sending a body to do the work … We have found mom-and-pop businesses tend to be more willing to work with us.”

YouthCare provides job search support, including mock interviews, resume building and skills internships. Rodriguez says one recent success story is a trans woman who was placed with a coding firm.

“She rocked it so well she turned into a full-time position,” says Rodriguez. “She’s making great money, great benefits and working for a great company. Because of how hard she worked, that company now works regularly with YouthCare.”

Blackford says his previous agency working in the LGBTQ+ community was in “small-town Oklahoma” was funded anonymously and “to have the ability to have conversations and work together with a large organization in Seattle, where we can be outspoken and push boundaries and limits is really valuable.”

When asked about an ideal outcome from Saturday’s “Pride Night presented by Symetra” at Climate Pledge Arena – besides a Kraken victory of course – Solomon offered her thoughts and some advice we can all embrace.”

“If you are a fan of a Seattle sports team, you are rooting for what Seattle is, and a lot of us are queer,” says the YouthCare director. “In a city that is fortunate enough to claim we are more welcoming and progressive, we still have shortcomings. On ‘Pride Night’ I would say the goal is all fans—gay, straight, whatever—come out of the game with more compassion and curiosity of what our city is struggling with right now.

“The homeless crisis is everywhere. It’s visible, you can’t ignore it. Just like LGBTQ+. We’re visible and you can’t ignore us. So why not be curious to engage with your community in a way that does not perpetuate any more oppression? One of my mantras is ‘stay curious, stay compassionate’ with anybody I meet.”

Follow the Seattle Kraken on all social media channels to learn more about their Pride events. Make sure you come down to Climate Pledge Arena or tune in and celebrate Pride Night presented by Symetra on April 9th (4pm puck drop).