It should be a simple question to answer, but 24-year-old Kevin Person stares at the housing application line that asks him to list his assets. He’s sitting in a conference room at Urban Peak, a local nonprofit that helps homeless youth and young adults become self-sufficient. On this March morning, the space is bare, save for Person’s jacket, a black pea coat that is too heavy for the current mild temperatures. “I don’t have any assets,” he says. “You don’t have a checking account?” prods Urban Peak deputy director Kendall Rames. “A savings account?” Person laughs grimly: “I have my coat.”
Most young adults are worried about their careers, their love lives, their student loans. So is Person, but he’s also concerned about finding a permanent home—it would be his first in more than three years—and whether his criminal record (including a felony for stealing more than $1,000 from a friend) will exclude him from securing a safe place to live. He wants to stay away from shelters, away from the men who use his sexual orientation as fodder for lewd jokes.
Raised in Colorado, Person knew he was gay as early as age five, but gaining the courage to come out to his family took years and sparked conflict. This is not unusual; the LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey reports that at least 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and familial problems are often the root of their homelessness. Person was acting out violently and scaring his family. He didn’t tell anyone at the time, but he says his aggressive behavior was partly in response to sexual abuse from a family member. Again, Person falls in the majority on this indicator: The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 58.7 percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBT have been sexually harassed or assaulted (33.4 percent of the heterosexual homeless youth population has experienced similar trauma).
Person abused marijuana and alcohol as a teen, and by the time he was 18, he was on his own. He spent time in jail for providing false information to an officer. “I didn’t know how to love myself,” he says. Person tried to reset his life. He briefly took classes at the Community College of Denver but dropped out because he says he was being harassed. With little money, he bounced among shelters, which never felt safe. Once, a man confronted Person and taunted him about his sexual orientation. When he tried to defend himself, the man punched him in the face. “It brings your most primordial instincts out,” Person says. “It’s fight or flight all the time.”
Person was tired of running, of not knowing where he’d sleep, of not having a kitchen in which to cook his meals. So he enrolled in a 12-month training program with Purple Door Coffee, a nonprofit business in Five Points that gives jobs to homeless teens and young adults. (He’s on track to graduate from the program this winter.) Most important, he finally found housing through Volunteers of America. Tonight, he’ll stay in his own 564-square-foot apartment in Aurora—where he can lock his door.