The city’s Department of Human Services is sponsoring a town-hall meeting May 28 for LGBTQ youth who wish to give feedback about the quality of services funded by DHS.
Organizers said it’s the first event of its kind in the department’s 89-year history.
“We’re reaching out to everyone possible to get youths to attend,” said Joseph N. Verdecchio, DHS’ liaison to the LGBT community. “We’re hoping for a substantial turnout. We know we’re not perfect, and that we’re open to improvement. Perhaps the youths will identify areas where we can improve.”
Verdecchio estimated that 700 LGBT youth receive supportive services through DHS, though far fewer have identified themselves as such to DHS officials.
“We don’t keep those type of statistics because it’s intrusive,” he said.
DHS offers services to LGBT youth by contracting with providers who run group homes and institutions. It also helps place LGBT children in foster and adoptive homes.
DHS funds Bethel House, the only group home in Philadelphia that caters specifically to LGBT youth, located in Queen Village.
“There will be young people from Bethel House at the town-hall meeting,” Verdecchio said.
DHS also provides preventive services to LGBT children who continue living with their families of origin. Additionally, it runs the Youth Study Center, a 130-bed facility in North Philadelphia for delinquent youth.
Verdecchio said LGBT-related disputes between DHS-served youth and parents or guardians run the gamut.
“Failing to use the correct pronouns for transgender youths is a biggie,” he said. “There’s also the issue of not letting gay youths attend LGBT functions. If an LGBT youth is doing something that’s a legitimate expression of their identity, we will advocate for them. If there’s a question, we tend to err on the side of the child.”
He said a DHS policy explaining the rights and responsibilities of LGBT youth will be released soon, and that he hopes the information would be included in an updated handbook given to all DHS youth.
He didn’t know when a new handbook might be published.
Verdecchio said the May 28 meeting will focus on the needs of LGBT individuals between ages 14-23.
“Several DHS people will be there to hear both individual and group concerns. They’ll be available to speak personally to youths, if the youths want to speak privately to someone regarding their concerns.”
The expectation is that the young participants will not discuss details about their individual cases during the public portion of the meeting, Verdecchio added.
He said the agency has conducted street outreach, passed out fliers and contacted service providers to help increase the turnout.
Verdecchio said every e-mail will receive a response and that youth should rest assured DHS officials are listening to their concerns and poised to take action.
“We have a number of working groups who are meeting on a regular basis, presently examining how to improve services for LGBTQ youths,” he added.
The meeting will be held 6-8 p.m. May 28 at the Achieving Independence Center, 1118 Market St., second floor. Pizza and refreshments will be provided.
Additionally, Verdecchio said tokens will be dispensed to those who need them to get home.
Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.