Promise Place School gives housing, education, and hope to homeless LGBT youth

The Foundation for International Justice, Inc, an organization dedicated to securing equal rights and protections around the world for LGBT people, is planning to open Promise Place School, a residential school for homeless LGBT youth and young adults, ages 12-24, in Massachusetts.

LGBT youth homelessness has become an epidemic in the U.S. Despite upwards of 500,000 unaccompanied children and teens experiencing homelessness each year, there are only around 4,000 beds for youths in shelters. And although around 5 percent of the overall youth population in the U.S. identify as LGBT, over 40% of those youths who are homeless are LGBT. According to research by the Foundation for International Justice, on top of struggling with the lack of shelter, food, and education, homeless youth become victims of exploitation and 40% complete suicide before age 26.

Erica Kay-Webster, founding board chair of the Foundation for International Justice, Inc. and CEO of Promise Place School, became homeless at 15 years old when her family rejected her for coming out as a transgender woman. She survived two suicide attempts, almost starved to death, and took shelter on the Staten Island Ferry in New York. Kay-Webster said:

“That was over 46 years ago, and I have never forgotten the fear, hunger, desperation, loneliness and the depression from feeling unloved and rejected. Finally, I was able to find a job and my boss and his wife rescued me, bringing me into their home with acceptance, safety and love. My own experience has motivated me to work at creating a better world than I had personally found at such a young age.”

Kay-Webster began creating the Foundation for International Justice in 2010, and now 4 years later plans are underway for the foundation to open Promise Place School. The school will be able to house 45 students year-round, as well as 56 campers during the summer for a summer program. All students will be identified through outreach and referral programs, and they must be homeless to attend.

The school will be staffed by qualified professionals, offering services including a safe and stable home environment, a healthy diet, clothing, medical services, mental health services, substance abuse education, recreational and physical fitness programs, and HIV/STD testing. All students will be offered education from 6th grade and up, including a GED program, guidance counseling, life skills education and vocational skills training, college prep classes, career counseling, full continuing education scholarships, and more.

Elizabeth McCliment, board member, assistant treasurer, and parent of a transgender son, said:

 “I’m proud to be part of the mission of the Promise Place School, which will serve to provide more than just a safe place to sleep, more than just an education and training, but will also fill the critical role of providing access to an entire community, along with the consistency and the support system that are lost when LGBT youth are rejected by family and loved ones.”

Kathy A. Felt, board president and COO of Promise Place School, added:

"In order to thrive and become productive, contributing members of society, all kids need to have a safe place to live, to obtain an education, to explore possibilities for their future and to dream and be free to be who they are. Promise Place School will make that difference in the lives of these kids. The supportive community living will provide a sense of belonging and acceptance for them. When kids feel safe and are encouraged by caring adults, they have a better chance of successfully transitioning to adulthood."

The school is scheduled to open in September 2015 in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, with more locations opening up in later years. Read more at The Rainbow Times.