For LGBTQ Homeless, Life Is Extra Complicated

(CBS) — They walk for hours, ride the train all night and sometimes sleep in alleys or abandoned buildings.

Thousands of young people in Chicago struggle with homelessness and for the right to choose who they will be. They are members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Questioning Community.

Feeling invisible, they take life one night at a time, reports CBS 2’s Erin Kennedy.

About 15,000 young people in Chicago are homeless. At least one-third are members of the LGBTQ community. They say that makes life more complicated.

Most of them leave or are thrown out of their homes when they’re honest about their sexuality. For most, once that choice is made, life gets even harder.

“You don’t know where you’re going to eat, where you’re going to sleep, you don’t know where you’re going to get clothes,” said Devin Redmond of The Night Ministry/The Crib. “When they leave this space, they get thrown back into a world that is judgmental, that is harsh, that is violent.”

The night can be terrifying. If you don’t get a bed at a shelter where do you go? For some it is an alley, an abandoned building or just about anywhere.

The things we take for granted, a phone number, a safe place to put our belongings, all of these things are lost on LGBTQ youth who experience homelessness.

And how can you look for a job when you have no address? Kennedy talked with two young people: one who survived homelessness and thrived and another who is still struggling.

“I was going to live within my truth and with affirming that I knew I could not live with my mother,” said ZZ Phillips.

Phillips left her mother’s house at 16 and never looked back.

Today, a transgender woman, ZZ dances with YEPP, a program that helps youth experiencing homelessness in the LGBTQ community. But for too long she slept in shelters, garages and on the street.

Phillips says she had to turn to prostitution.

“I had no other resources,” Phillips said. “I had to put on a facade to get through the night.”

But she knew she’d get past it.

“I knew that there was more,” she said. “I knew that I was capable of more.”

But alone in the cold, more can seem impossible.

“It’s more difficult being in the LGBTQ community than being regular straight person because you get judged a lot,” said Theo. “The first night on the street I actually slept on the red line. I had a book bag with me and two bags of shoes.”

And like many LGBTQ homeless, for Theo, no home often meant no food.

“I stole a lot…try to sneak a bag of chips or a snack to hold me for a couple of hours.”

At just 18 suicide seemed like the only answer.

“There was nowhere for me to go,” Theo said. “I wanted it to be over.”

Then a friend told him about La Casa Norte, a Chicago shelter.

“They instantly gave me a bed, let me shower,” Theo said. “They’ve held me up. This is a blessing to me.”

ZZ feels blessed too. She finished her education while homeless and is a youth counselor.

“I knew I needed to work harder…be fiercer because of the lifestyle I chose to live,” she said. “That’s why I say I’m a rock star.”

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