Taking Shelter

There are approximately 14,000 homeless youth in the state of Arkansas. Homeless LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) young adults make up 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population in America. There are six homeless shelters in Little Rock alone. Within the entire state of Arkansas, there is one shelter for LGBTQ youth.

Along with being refused service at many shelters within the state due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, homeless LGBTQ young adults are more likely to suffer from abuse and sexual assault than their heterosexual and cisgender peers.

Lucie’s Place opened its doors in 2011 as a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in Little Rock. The most common case at Lucie’s Place is a child being rejected by their parents from their home due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

While many students know that attendance at events like Miss Hendrix support the nonprofits that Campus Kitty selects each year, the true impact isn’t always made explicit. Campus Kitty will allocate nearly $5,000 toward Lucie’s Place in order to provide food for their residents for an entire year, and that is just one of 10 organizations that is being funded.

“Lucie’s Place is named after my good friend Lucille Murry Hamilton, who passed away in 2009,” executive director Penelope Poppers said. “She was a young transgender woman who came out very early in life in Arkansas, who had to force everybody to acknowledge her for who she was. She would have never been one our clients because she always had housing and a family that loved her, but this is a way to remember her.”

Poppers began Lucie’s Place after working with the homeless population in Arkansas.

“I saw a great need for services that are specific to homeless LGBT young adults in our community,” Poppers said. “They face some pretty specific challenges and discriminations when they are on the streets. Many shelters in the area have religious views that are anti-LGBT, and anti-LGBT sentiment trickles down into their programming. Some shelters outright don’t allow LGBTQ people to enter; some do, but make life there so bad that people don’t want to stay.

Due to capacity issues, Lucie’s Place hasn’t seen as much growth as they had intended to, but they have made a significant impact on the Little Rock community. Since 2012, they have housed and taken care of nearly 200 youth. The shelter is easy for youth to access and tailored to each resident’s specific needs.

“They just walk in the door, and that’s sort of it,” Poppers said. “We do an intake process, and we treat everyone differently. It’s hard to say specifically what the process is depending on what their needs are. People hear about us through word of mouth or from another agency. They will either call and schedule an appointment, or they will just walk in. Either way, it’s fine.”

Lucie’s Place provides housing, food, cell phones with minutes, utilities and bus passes for all of their residents. While they are similar to other shelters in the services they provide, they offer a different type of solace to their residents.

“One of the things we know about anybody from the ages 18 to 25 is that they want to be around their peers,” Poppers said. “They don’t want to be in a shelter with 100 people that are twice or three times their age. Sometimes what we see is no matter how LGBTQ-affirming a shelter is, young people want to be around their peers, and they want to be in an environment that is specific to their peers. That’s not available anywhere but here. We really see people thrive because of that.”

Many residents of Lucie’s Place are there to get back on their feet, but they are not limited or pushed to accomplish goals that they do not want to set for themselves. Their future is in their own hands, assisted by the staff at Lucie’s Place.

“We have case managers that work with them, but primarily they take the initiative to move themselves forward. We don’t have any guidelines set. But, everyone needs to get their GED and be working full-time, or trying to work full-time,” Poppers said. “If people want to continue their education or pick up a trade, or save up money to move to another city, it’s up to them. They set their own goals with their case managers, and then they work through those own their own. There’s a lot of independence built into the programming, and that’s intentional.”

Many shelters allow a resident to stay one night, but Lucie’s Place offers a sense of stability to the youth that live there while encouraging them to work to meet their goals.

“The house is only there to act as an in-between point so that we can give people somewhere stable,” Poppers said. “They have an address. They can have mail sent to a phone. They can have their own number to put on a resume or job application. Those basic things really give them the base of what they need to move forward, and then after that, it’s up to them.”

Most nonprofits receive federal funding, but Lucie’s Place does not. Citizens within the community support the organization in full.

“Our funding is nearly entirely from community members,” Poppers said. “We don’t receive any city, state or federal funding. We have received some grants throughout the years. We just received a large grant for $50,000, which we will be using to purchase our next home. But that has been the largest by far, but other than that it has mostly been community members donating five or 10 dollars here and there.”

Due to their lack of consistent, stable funding and small staff, Lucie’s Place is continually looking for volunteers.

“If anyone wanted to get involved they would sign up to be a volunteer, which is on our website,” Poppers said. “We have volunteer trainings throughout the year that we require. But if people want to get involved in a less intense capacity, we are always looking for groups and individuals who are interested in doing bake sales, garage sales and donation drives on behalf of Lucie’s Place.”

Photo Credit Megan Prettyman

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