The Lighthouse Project will target 300 homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults over five years.
The Lighthouse Project will target 300 homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults over five years.

UA Institute Tackles Homelessness Among LGBTQ Young Adults

A $2.5 million federal grant will allow The Lighthouse Project, led by the UA Southwest Institute for Research on Women, to provide homeless LGBTQ young adults with a comprehensive system of care that includes housing, health care, case management, and substance abuse and mental health treatment.
Aug. 30, 2019
Claudia Powell
Claudia Powell

The University of Arizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women will collaborate with community partners in support of unstably housed LGBTQ young adults in Tucson as part of a $2.5 million federal grant.

The Southwest Institute for Research on Women, or SIROW, is lead on the Lighthouse Project, which received the grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The project links homeless young adults in Tucson who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and their straight allies to a trauma-informed system of care that includes housing, health care, case management, and substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Claudia Powell is primary investigator on the project and associate director of SIROW, which is housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Powell is also chair of the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness board of directors.

For the Lighthouse Project, SIROW handles the administration, coordination and delivery of evidence-based practices. Community partner Our Family Services provides housing case management services. The Southern Arizona Aids Foundation trains housing providers on the best practices for being LGBTQ affirming, especially with regard to transgender people.

The Lighthouse Project will target 300 homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults, primarily between the ages of 18 and 35, enrolling 60 individuals each year during the five-year funding period.

Depending on their needs, Lighthouse participants will receive a variety of services, including: Wellness Recovery Action Plan, a mental health support curriculum; Seeking Safety, a curriculum to help reduce the effect of traumatic experiences; and SIROW Sexual Health Education-Queer, a sexual health education and HIV prevention curriculum for LGBTQ youth.

Participants can also drop into the office to use computers, meet with a housing case manager, be in a safe and affirming space, and build a social support network.

Chronic homelessness is more complicated than giving someone a place to stay, Powell says.

"As important as it is to develop programs that help get people into housing, it is also important to have programs that help people be successful in remaining housed," she said.

Serving a Vulnerable Population

SIROW has been providing services for LGBTQ youth and young adults in the Tucson community for more than 15 years. Previous projects included younger teens, but for housing programs, there were complications around providing services to minors.

The Lighthouse Project is an iteration of the ANCHOR program, a supportive service project for LGBTQ youth that had received SAMHSA funding. New services include providing mental health support groups for clients and LGBTQ best practice training for housing providers.

"With every iteration, we make some changes, mostly based on things we learned from research associated with the project," Powell said.

Over the years, SIROW has been surprised by the high proportion of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the program, about 40%, which "speaks so strongly to the vulnerability of people who are gender nonconforming in society," Powell said.

According to a UCLA study, although LGBTQ youth make up about 7% of the population, they comprise 40% of homeless youth. And according to the National Runaway Safeline, homeless young people who identify as LGBTQ are seven times more likely to be a victim of crime than their straight peers.

SIROW services include a trauma-informed system of care, Powell says, because most of the participants have experienced trauma, typically in the form of violence against them.

"It is alarming," Powell said. "Around 85% of them have been attacked or have experienced violence."

SIROW staff interview the participants when they enroll and then again six months later to assess the impact of the program. Powell said that results from the ANCHOR project showed that participants had improved housing stability, mental health and social support, a reduction of risky behavior, and increased employment after six months of participation.

"The Lighthouse Project is an important community collaboration that brings the strengths of SIROW, Our Family Services and the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation together to address the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of our community," said Luis Ortega, director of programs at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation. "This model allows us to share what we learn and empower other communities to improve their services for LGBTQ-identified youth and young adults experiencing homelessness."

Tackling Homelessness in Tucson

SIROW is also the project evaluator on four other newly funded projects, totaling more than $6 million, which tackle homelessness as well as the opiate epidemic in Tucson.

Josephine Korchmaros, director of SIROW, said the fact these projects involve agencies from multiple sectors, including university, government and service providers, "creates an unprecedented opportunity for a coordinated, concerted effort to address urgent community needs.

"SIROW's involvement in these projects reflects our commitment to the community and the strength of our reputation as collaborative community-focused experts," Korchmaros said. "This illustrates our passion for applied intervention and research projects with the potential to positively impact thousands of lives."

"We are proud of the University of Arizona's record serving the greater community," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "I am very glad to know that SIROW will be part of a multilateral partnership with Our Family Services and the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation to address the challenges faced by this vulnerable population so that they can achieve the kind of future everyone deserves. Bringing together experts and resources from many disciplines will be increasingly important for our future as a society, and I am pleased that SIROW is helping to create this model of collaboration in an area of great need."