40 percent of homeless Utah children identified as LGBT

Oct 30 2013 - 12:23am

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OGDEN -- Of Utah's estimated 5,000 homeless youths, about 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

And of that 40 percent, 50 percent say they were raised in families who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That data, based on new research conducted by Utah State University graduate student Rachel Peterson, was released Tuesday.

Also announced: The OUTreach Resource Center plans to open centers for LGBT youths in four Utah communities in addition to Ogden.

New centers to open in donated spaces:

* Nov. 7 in Clearfield, next to Clearfield High School, at Fisher Park Business Center, 782 E. 700 South. Open

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month.

* Nov. 14 in Brigham City, at the New Hope Crisis Center, 435 E. 700 South. Open

4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.

* Nov. 15 in Logan, at Cache Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 596 E. 900 North. Open 4:30 p.m. to

7 p.m. every Friday. Peterson will be the coordinator.

* And Nov. 21 in Tremonton, Bear River Mental Health Services, 18 N. 200 East, No. 403. Open 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. the third Thursday of each month.

The Ogden center, for ages 14-23, is at 705 23rd St. Hours are 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.

"It's so exciting," said Marian Edmonds-Allen, executive director of Ogden's OUTreach Resource Center (www.ogdenoutreach.org).

"We had been talking about it since summer, then we got a challenge grant, and we thought, 'Let's do this.' The need is there. There are so many suicides people don't hear about. We couldn't wait any longer."

Meetings in most new locations will start out monthly, and hours will increase as demand dictates and funding allows. Logan youths will get a weekly meeting because the city has fewer resources for LGBT youths and for homeless youths, Peterson said.

"It's not common for a city of 100,000 to have zero LGBT services and homeless youth services," said Peterson, who is studying for her doctorate in sociobehavioral epidemiology.

"We want to meet their basic needs and make sure they have adequate food, clothing and hygiene items and, as much as we can, make sure they have a safe sleeping situation. The law prohibits us holding them overnight."

A food pantry will be established. The Logan site, with its added focus on homeless patrons, plans to offer access to health care and mental health counseling. Life skills and employment training will be taught.

"We know that LGBT youths are at higher risk for suicide, and homeless youths are, too, so it's the intersection of two groups," Peterson said.

"We know two of every five homeless youths in Utah have tried to take their own life, and there are many more who do take their own lives who are not included in the data."

Peterson said she based her research conclusion on existing data and on surveys conducted by area service organizations.

She believes her estimates are likely low, she said, because she is dealing with nontrusting populations that have been hurt. Members tend to keep information to themselves, she said.

Peterson based her first number, the presence of about 5,000 homeless youths in Utah, on two existing figures. She knows that 2,000 homeless youths are helped annually by OUTreach and by Street Outreach, a program in Utah sponsored by Volunteers of America (www.voaut.org). Peterson added 3,000 homeless youths documented as attending Utah high schools.

The 5,000 total could include some client overlap, Peterson said, but it's probable there's also a large, uncounted population of LGBT high school dropouts who are not receiving any services.

Peterson based her conclusion that 40 percent of homeless youths identify as LGBT on surveys and on percentages common in other states.

The 50 percent of Utah LGBT homeless youths being LDS is based entirely on surveys, she said. The number could be higher because some answered the question about their religious affiliation at age 10 with "Christian," which also includes the LDS Church, she said.

According to the Utah Department of Health, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10-17 and Utahns ages 18-24. On average, two youths and three young adults are treated for suicide attempts daily in Utah, according to department information.

Edmonds-Allen said that, among the 350 LGBT youths who attend the OUTreach Resource Center, each reports knowing at least one peer who has died by suicide, and one reported losing 19 to suicide.

Edmonds-Allen said two additional sites for Northern Utah OUTreach Resource Centers are close to being set.

Edmonds-Allen said OUTreach has funding to keep the four newly announced centers operating until February.

Anyone who would like to donate or offer help can contact OUTreach through its website or its Facebook page, although both will be updated in coming days, so links may be broken temporarily.

To reach OUTreach by phone, call 801-686-4528.

Peterson said she believes people will step up to help.

"I feel now, more than I ever have, the sense of people wanting to collaborate," she said. "There's a feeling of positive momentum. It's an exciting time to be involved. It gives me a lot of hope, and I think it should give everyone hope."

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net.

Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.

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