Homelessness has touched Ken Slack’s life for as long as he can remember—as a young child, his family struggled with financial issues and, on and off, having a place to stay.
“We experienced periods of homelessness ever since I was little,” he said. “It was scary.”
As a trans teenager, Slack’s situation “wasn’t the safest.” He was also struggling with mental health issues, and found a therapist at Greater Twin Cities United Way partner agency RECLAIM, which provides access to mental health support for queer and trans youth.
Through RECLAIM, Slack was connected with Avenues for Homeless Youth, which provides emergency shelter and short-term housing for homeless youth. Through these services, he was placed in a loving host home, went back to school, and rekindled a relationship with his family.
“Because of RECLAIM and Avenues, I was able to let go of some past trauma,” Slack said. “When you are a homeless young person, it’s scary. Add in being LGBTQ and worrying about exposing yourself to risk or judgement, and it’s even tougher.”
He said working with case workers and support group leaders who were LGBTQ at these agencies made a big difference.
“When you share experiences like being LGBTQ, you have a special bond and it becomes easier to build trust,” Slack said. “It made me feel like I wasn’t alone; like there was hope. If another LGBTQ person can make it in life despite facing challenges, then so can I.”
Today, he has found employment, moved into a studio apartment, and volunteers with The Link, a nonprofit that works with youth and families to overcome the impacts of poverty and social injustice.
Slack hopes that other LGBTQ youth who are struggling find help—and hope—through organizations like RECLAIM, Avenues, and The Link.
“A kind home and mental health care are very important for kids and teens so they can grow into thriving adults,” he said. “We can all help by making the problem of LGBTQ youth homelessness more visible and acting on it.”