What can funders learn from LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness? Our CEO, Amanda Andere, joined Kahilb Barton, True Colors United; Rivianna Hyatt, True Colors United; and Kelli King-Jackson, The Simmons Foundation to discuss this at the Funders for LGBTQ Issues Funding Forward convening in March.
We asked Kahlib, Rivianna, and Kelli to share some reflections about this workshop that talked about how funders can be better partners to LGBTQ youth of color experiencing homelessness, the impacts of giving up power, and what it really means to center people with lived expertise.
1. At Funders Together, we believe that those closest to the issue should have the largest influence in the solution. How does this principle of centering people with lived experience show up in your work to end homelessness?
Kahlib Barton (KH): Until systems work for those most impacted, then they fail for everyone. The only way we can improve the system is if we work on it through the lens of people who have navigated it. This is all of my work. Unfortunately, this is seen as an innovative solution when it should be the norm, but I have committed to ensuring that people with lived experience are a part of the solution.
Rivianna Hyatt (RH): Young people who have experienced homelessness hold the keys to untangling the knot of the issue. The people who know not only what an issue looks like, but what it feels like, should be the people making the decisions on what should be done about it. Over and over again, we find that there is expertise there that has not been tapped into. If we are aiming to center our work around equity, if we are to really make human services that are human. Space must be made for those who matter.
Kelli King-Jackson (KKJ): This principle is newer for many foundations, including The Simmons Foundation. For a long time, nonprofit partners were spokespeople on behalf of individuals experiencing homelessness. And so, we have tried to do a better job of being more present in community by attending more community events hosted by different stakeholders.
At the foundation, we’ve been intentional about centering young people. They bring a different level of life and energy, which has been life changing and refreshing. We’re all fighting in our office over who gets to work with young people! In my work, young people have taught me so much and I’ve found when you center people with lived experience or expertise, we are able to do our work more effectively because we are learning and growing.
2. How do you ensure that you’re collaborating with youth authentically to avoid tokenism or paternalism? How is collaboration different from lifting up someone’s voice?
RH: Tokenism is using somebody as a symbolic effort to perform diversity or equality, often without providing adequate compensation. To me, collaboration is working in a way that’s beneficial to everyone in the partnership. Working with young people well requires the same things it takes to work well with anyone else - communication, humility, and mutual respect.
3. LGBTQ youth of color disproportionally experience homelessness beyond people who have one of those identities. When we talk about equity, we also talk about redirecting power to those who are affected most by the issue. What is a concrete result or impact you’ve seen or experienced by giving up power that may not have happened otherwise?
KB: In my work providing technical assistance to communities, I had the opportunity to work with HUD on the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project. Being a Black queer youth who experienced homelessness without a degree, this was a new concept. A group of queer youth and I were able to have power given to us by the people who fund homelessness initiatives.
We were not only part of the creation of the grant, we selected communities to receive funding, and went on to provide technical assistance for them. From this, we birthed several different youth bodies across the country who are now working locally to end youth homelessness and have all made major strides in this effort. This is proof that when power is given to the people who it has been taken from, major change can happen.
RH: We would not condone queer organizations run by cisgender, heterosexual people. Why would we allow decisions to be made about homelessness services by people who have never experienced the issue? Every time a person with lived experience of homelessness enters a room and space is made for them to express themselves, the conversation is changed.
4. How can philanthropy be a good partner in supporting LGBTQ youth of color experiencing homelessness?
KB: Philanthropy needs understand racism. One of the biggest challenges we have in this fight is calling out racism as it shows up. Part of this is centering whiteness in the conversations around Black and Brown LGBTQ youth. We must work to change the language we use and be explicit in our understanding of how homelessness affects Black youth in America separate from other youth of color.
Black youth are the most impacted and until we recognize that, we will continue to repeat history.
RH: Philanthropy can support LGBTQ youth of colors experiencing homelessness by listening directly to them. Set up listening sessions, create relationships. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when stakeholders make a real investment in getting to know the community they are aiming to support.
KKJ: First and foremost -- fund the youth! The best way philanthropy can be a good partner is fund positions for LGBTQ youth of color in organizations that say they want to do youth work. This means actual employment, not just a gift card or lunch to show up to meetings. Young people say they need employment and benefits so if philanthropy isn’t responsive to that, it means we’re not being a good partner.
Secondly, authentically solicit and use feedback. At The Simmons Foundation, we’re thinking about how to take feedback from young people, particularly LGBTQ youth of color and embed that into our grantmaking. Funders often have a habit of hosting listening sessions but then not reflecting that feedback in their work
5. Though you were leading this session as an expert, there’s always rich conversation and expertise in the room. During the workshop at Funding Forward, were there questions or conversations from participants that struck you or made you pause and think?
KKJ: When hearing from the young people on the panel, you could see people’s expressions of utter shock and dismay to learn how philanthropy puts pressure on nonprofits to perform. As funders, we needed to hear that and be checked on it. The youth who present a certain way, or a section of a shelter that looks fancy is what gets shown to funders because there’s a pressure to be perfect. So the question becomes how can funders structure site visits that’s not offensive, that’s not performance, but is inclusive and around meaningful conversation?
I heard a funder who’s relatively new to this work have an a-ha moment in public – saying, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” I remember having that feeling, too! It was a great moment to be able to highlight how Funders Together can help them learn how to center people and center race was a great moment.
I think it’s also important for funders who are interested in this work to think about joining the Funders Network for Youth Success, a Funders Together network focused on youth homelessness. It’s a great opportunity to connect with peers and gain access to resources and programming specific to issues around youth and young people experiencing homelessness. Belonging to a network that can lift up best practices and keep you accountable in this work is so valuable and benefits our collective work.