Mid-South group provides shelter for teens who are "Down and Out"

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A Mid-South organization is putting shelter over sexuality for local teens kicked out of their homes after revealing they are gay.

For the past year, Word has been opening her doors to young people who are struggling because of their sexuality.  

"I have two sons in their 30's and the oldest is gay, so its an issue close to my heart," she said.

The issue is young men and women who wind up homeless while their parents come to terms with the fact they're gay.

"Sometimes we deal with children who can't go home," she said.

Word is a foster mother for the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center's Y.E.S. Program, which stands for Youth Empowerment Services.

"Some of the kids that we work with have been kicked out because their parents cannot deal with the fact that they're gay or lesbian or transgender," said MGLCC's Executive Director, Will Batts. "It's just how it is and they end up on the streets"

The goal is to help displaced gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth find stability and independence.

"The kids we're dealing with are coming out at 14, 15, 16...they have no safety net," Word said.

The safety net of the YES program could save lives. A 2009 study shows gay adolescents rejected by their families were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

"I had, at one point, five kids in the house who all were suicide survivors," Word said.
While providing shelter, Word helps rejected youth repair those family relationships.  While she knows she can't replace the bond between a parent and a child, she can offer temporary shelter and love to a young person when he or she needs it the most.

"These are God's children," she said. "This is how God made them, not to be discarded, but to be loved and supported and helped through difficult times."

The MGLCC is in search of more mothers like Deb Word - foster families willing to open their homes and their hearts for three to six months. 

"All we ask of them is to provide shelter and food," Batts said. "That's really all we ask."

The MGLCC. conducts thorough background checks of their youth in need, as well as families who are interested in providing temporary foster care.

MGLCC Website: www.mglcc.org

"Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes"
Caitlin Ryan PhD, study published in the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics
Vol. 123 No. 1 January 2009

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