My hour-long daily commute from Philadelphia to Royersford, Pennsylvania is only 36 miles, but some of the people I see along my route might as well be a million miles away. Every day on my way to I-95 I travel along Columbus Boulevard, a dilapidated six-lane roadway that meanders along the Delaware River and spurts out box-store chains, fast-food restaurants, and warn-down piers converted into public storage facilities. In the middle of the boulevard, where weeds grow up the sides of the concrete barriers, I typically find several people holding signs that read, "Please help! Homeless and alone." These signs are held by teenagers just like the ones found in my English classroom that I'm commuting to. Except these teenagers will enter no classroom on this day. They will be lucky to even find a roof over their heads come nightfall.
The sad truth is that over 500,000 American youths are homeless, just like those I drive past on Columbus Boulevard each day. The inconvenient truth is that 40% of homeless American youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This is despite the fact that only 5% of Americans identify as LGBT. Last year 200,000 LGBT youth lived on the streets of the United States. Most were kicked out of highly-religious, homophobic homes because of their sexual orientation. And for the majority of America's LGBT homeless youth, there are not many places they can turn to for help.
Organizations, however, are starting to sprout up to give homeless LGBT youth a place of safety. Two such organizations are The Ali Forney Center in New York City and The Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia. These places provide safe havens for homeless LGBT youth and a chance to learn, meet friends, and be, you know, regular teenagers.
Last April, Carl Siciliano, executive director of The Ali Forney Center, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis urging the Pontiff to shine a light on the plight of America's LGBT homeless youth. In the letter, Siciliano writes, "The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential Christian organization in the world. By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families in societies across the globe to reject their children." Pope Francis's support would go a long way in helping LGBT youth stay in their homes.
However, we need more organizations like The Ali Forney Center and The Attic Youth Center. And just as Siciliano urges Pope Francis to draw attention to homeless LGBT youth, we need to as well. We need to acknowledge the injustice and come up with common-sense solutions to a problem that can be fixed. It takes organizations, politicians, and ordinary people coming together to put a roof over every homeless kid's head, regardless of how they identify themselves. Every kid, whether he or she is standing on Columbus Boulevard in South Philly or on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, deserves such.