James Allen came out as bisexual at age 13, only to experience extreme verbal and emotional abuse from family members. At times, he said, he considered suicide.
At age 19, he spent a year in transitional housing. At 20, he received a key to his own apartment at the Gloria Casarez Residence in “a full-circle moment.”
“[It’s] a large weight off my shoulders,” Allen said. “It makes me so joyful to walk into my apartment every day after work and school and feel gratitude. This is my domain. This is a place where I can express myself how I want to and be happy.”
Local housing nonprofit Project HOME hosted the grand opening of its Gloria Casarez Residence, Pennsylvania’s first LGBTQ-friendly permanent supportive housing facility, on Tuesday, although Allen moved in March 19. The residence, on 8th Street near Master, offers 30 apartments to youth ages 18-23 who are aging out of foster care, at risk of experiencing homelessness or are currently or have previously experienced homelessness. The building’s courtyard is also available for community arts events and advocacy committee meetings.
Of the 28 people currently living at the residence, 18 identify as LGBTQ, PGN verified with Project HOME representatives. An additional LGBTQ-identifying tenant is expected as well.
Sister Mary Scullion, the president and executive director of Project HOME, said many of the residents have experienced “vicious social stigma and profound marginalization.”
“As I’ve gotten to know many of these young leaders, it is clear that they have turned their struggles into strength and determination,” Scullion said of the residents. “These new homes will be a base for them to develop their gifts and to forge their vocations. I have no doubt that our whole entire community will be greatly enriched by their lives.”
Occupants can access employment, education, healthcare and life-skills services at the residence, and rent is based on income — 30 percent of an occupant’s earnings.
The facility is named after the Philadelphia native and civil rights leader who was appointed first director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs in 2008. Casarez died of cancer in 2014.
“By using her voice, [Casarez] gave entire communities, especially those of us who exist at the margins, a seat at the table,” said Amber Hikes, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs. “She turned activism into action. She turned protests into policy. She connected communities to the government and built the capacity for the next generation of leaders to challenge one another and create something profound for the betterment of all of us.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke and U.S. Rep Dwight Evans also attended the grand opening.
The Gloria Casarez Residence is the sixth project completed under Project HOME’s MPOWER initiative — a community partnership that emphasizes investments, relationships, resources, advocacy and evidence. Organizations including the Philadelphia Housing Authority, William Penn Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funded the apartment complex.
Project HOME has 70 apartments available to young adults across Philadelphia, including at JBJ Soul Homes on Fairmount Avenue near 15th Street and Francis House of Peace on Arch Street near Ninth.
About 7 percent of United States youth identify as LGBTQ, while 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ, according to True Colors United, a nonprofit that addresses youth homelessness. LGBTQ youth are 120-percent more likely to experience homelessness than their hetero peers.
“Black and brown people, trans, nonbinary and gender-noncomforming folks are disproportionately affected by these issues,” Hikes said. “They deserve a safe, supportive and permanent space to navigate their uniquely challenging and exciting journeys into adulthood. They deserve that for themselves and for their histories.”