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A San Antonio facility is helping local LGBTQ+ youth who have become homeless find shelter and a way to get off the streets.
The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth, reported that in 2021, the LGBTQ+ community represented as much as 40% of the homeless youth population.
And a reason some are experiencing homelessness is because they’re simply being true to themselves. It’s a story all too familiar for Sandra Whitley, who founded the Thrive Youth Center in 2015.
“I didn’t really come out, but I got caught kissing girls and that was a bad thing,” Whitley said. “I knew what it felt like to be totally alone.”
Whitley was sent away from her home when she was 13-years-old. In an interview with KSAT, she said the experience made her angry and later gave her the desire to help youth facing similar situations.
“What we try to do is remove any barrier that’s in their way to help them achieve what goals they want to achieve,” Whitley said.
Six years in, Thrive has helped more than 100 young people move into their own apartment and more than 200 people with emergency shelter. They continue to make an impact through street outreach.
Andrea Cantu is part of Thrive’s Street Outreach Team. Her role is to meet with individuals who may need assistance and it can be challenging.
“Depending on what I’m looking at, I walk up and I say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Do you want some water? Especially right now with with the summer heat,’” Cantu said. “After a while, you can kind of tell who’s serious. There’s some people that are like, I just want socks and shoes and I’m good to go.”
Other times, people are more open to accepting Thrive’s help, including Natalie Salazar. She was introduced to Thrive in 2018. “I never thought I would need assistance,” Salazar said.
When Salazar did need help, Thrive paid for part of her living expenses allowing her to focus on completing school and starting a career. “So that I can focus on being comfortable in my own skin,” Salazar said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
To support Thrive in its mission to get LGBTQ+ youth off the streets, click here.