In Mid City, sits a red brick building, plain on the outside and filled with compassion on the inside. Youth Oasis has been providing emergency services and Department of Children and Family Services placements for 20 years. DIG sat down with Carrie Patterson, Licensed Master Social Worker, program manager of Youth Oasis and the person in charge of Baton Rouge’s very own LGBTQ children’s shelter, Diversity House.
The Diversity House transitional living program started housing youth in March 2016. It provides housing services for a very underserved population in the Capital Area.
“When we talk about vulnerable populations, we serve some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” Patterson said. “DCFS custody, minors, multiple placements, lack of kinship or social support, mental health issues, trauma or PTSD responses, educational interruption, system involvement including run-ins with the law or incarceration, then LGBTQ on top of it.”
Patterson said there was an obvious need for Diversity House. Many fosters see LGBTQ youth as “problems,” making them harder to place. There’s still a false stigma associated with these youth that they are predators, will cause trouble with other children, and it’s a snowball effect from there. Foster parents are not always prepared to deal with LGBTQ youth, get overwhelmed, and will ask for them to be removed just as a preventative measure.
“So it’s, ‘I don’t want to deal with this. It makes me uncomfortable,’” Patterson said, summarizing the fears of some foster parents.
This is where Diversity House steps in. They are staffed 24/7, 365 days a year, providing housing, meals, financial literacy, case management, transportation, life skill classes, and more to LGBTQ youth between the ages of 16 and 21. They can house up to 10 residents at a time in nine individual apartments. In the common area, youth have access to a phone, computers and internet, and television.
“It’s amazing to see what our youth do with their apartments to make that space their own. One of the most important things we provide is a safe space to be,” said Patterson. “Physical and emotional space to heal are some of the least quantifiable but most important things that we can offer.”
The program is an 18-month plan, but Patterson said youth rarely stay the entire time they are allotted because of the accountability and structure of the program.
“Kids who live in foster care, so many of their decisions are made by so many different people who don’t necessarily know them. So, we’ve seen what happens when kids just all of a sudden get a tremendous amount of freedom. They’re not prepared,” Patterson said.
One of the biggest tasks of Diversity House is filling the service gap from 18 years of age to 21. Louisiana does not provide extended foster care, which means, youth lose access to most of their state assisted programs as soon as they are legal.
“At 18, they go on a last shopping trip to make sure they’ve got essentials, and that’s pretty much it,” said Patterson. “Our goal is always to connect youth with what they need to go out and be successful in the community. These kids already know that they live a world that is not kind to them. Part of the work is helping them become prepared for handling that.”
Running a transitional living facility is difficult, especially in a state where no monies are provided for youth over the age of 18. Community support is vital to keeping their doors open. Diversity house is always looking for volunteers to teach life skills classes, plumbers and electricians to take care of repairs, yoga or fitness instructors, and anyone else willing to help out. Donations of household items or money make a huge impact as well.
“We need more programs and more resources. If anyone has an idea on how they can help, I encourage them to pursue it,” said Patterson. “All of our youth, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they all need so much more than they’re getting.”
Image: Sarah Amacker