Some homeless teens are kicked out for being argumentative. Some have parents with addictions. Some are beaten, raped and berated until they leave. But some kids are on the streets because of the people with whom they want to have sex.
In fact, social service agencies estimate that 25 to 40 percent of homeless youth are there because of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning sexual orientations. In most of these cases, kids are too afraid to tell their parents for fear of being abused or rejected for their preferences. The sad part is that getting thrown out is all too common for kids who are GLBT. That, or they are made into the focus of the family's dysfunction and feel pressured to leave.
That's where Odyssey Youth Center comes in. It's a safe place for GLBT kids to find people who are like them and to learn safe ways to survive on the streets. Elizabeth Whitford, director of Odyssey, says that the youth center sees kids of all kinds -- ranging from those who have been chronically homeless and who put themselves into risky situations, to those GLBT kids who are dropped off at the center by their parents.
"We're here because this is a very marginalized part of youth," she says.
Odyssey demonstrates to the GLBT kids who come there how to empower themselves to live the life that they want.
Julie Amo, Odyssey's program coordinator, says that through group activities, guest speakers and the formation of healthy relationships, Odyssey kids can feel OK with being themselves.
"We teach these youth how to better face the challenges and change the world in a way that's beneficial for them," she says.
Whitford says that through Odyssey, Spokane GLBT kids -- whether homeless or not -- can learn how to fit into the big picture. She notes that, above all, kids who hang out at Odyssey don't have to worry about being "that gay kid" while they are there.
"They can just be a kid," she says.