After years of behind-the-scenes work, OUTMemphis will begin building its Youth Emergency Center this week and it will serve as the area's only LGBTQ-specific shelter and drop-in center.
Work began on the center in 2016. OUTMemphis closed on a piece of Shelby County Land Bank property at 2059 Southern that spans three parcels. But work to clearly identify homeless youth who identified as LGBTQ here began in 2015, with the city's first ever survey and count of that population.
Last year, the Community Alliance for the Homeless 2018 Point-in-Time/Youth Count found that 57 percent of homeless youth utilize emergency shelters and 43 percent use transitional housing. In Shelby County, 51 percent of unaccompanied youth are 18-24. LGBTQ young people aged 18-24 make up 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness.
- Ground will break on the new shelter on Saturday.
OUTMemphis piloted several possible solutions to the problem, including host families and hotel vouchers. Ultimately, the group founded the Metamorphosis Project, a long-term approach to LGBTQ-specific emergency shelter for youth.
"One night, I received three calls in an hour from youths across the state looking for housing services," said Stephanie Reyes, who launched OUTMemphis' Youth Services programs and spearheads the Metamorphosis Project. "That very night, we decided enough was enough. We needed to do something drastic to serve our kids.
"For years, LGBTQ youth in Memphis have had to endure shelters that were not safe, free, or welcoming. Now we will have a space of our own, so our youth can not only survive but thrive."
OUTMemphis has said the center would house 20 clients at full capacity. The Metamorphosis building will start with four beds, a classroom, meeting and office space, a kitchen, laundry, storage, and parking.
The Youth Emergency Center is one part of the overall, three-pronged effort by the Metamorphosis Project. It also includes Youth Emergency Services (YES), which supplies hygiene products, food, clothes, bus passes, case management, and more. The overall project also includes Rapid Re-Housing, which began in 2017. It helps participants with one year of rental assistance and guidance on renting a first home.
When finished, the center will be one of about 20 like it across the country.
"This space will be the first and only drop-in center and shelter for youth in Memphis," said Stephanie Bell, Youth Services Manager at OUTMemphis. "This will be the city's first chance to change the lives of those most vulnerable."
Reyes has said in the past that many Memphis-area shelters don't advertise that they are LGBTQ-friendly. Others are either not free, safe, or welcoming.
Funds for the new building and the Metamorphosis Project came from the Assisi Foundation, Plough Foundation, the Mystic Krewe of Pagasus, Friends of George's, and Manna House.
"It showed us that we were not the only people in this city to see this need and want to help," said Reyes. "People rallied together to make this happen, and we expect to see that significant support continue as the emergency shelter begins operations and, hopefully, expands."