LOS ANGELES : She had arrived in Los Angeles on a one-way ticket from Texarkana, Texas, earlier that day. From the bus station in the heart of downtown L.A., she walked north for miles. At the edge of Hollywood, she forced herself to stop. Her feet were swollen. Her phone was dead. She was hungry and exhausted. Phillips was 20 years old and completely alone. Phillips had started walking with one destination in sight ― the Los Angeles LGBT Youth Center. When she entered the building the next day and admired its rainbow mural, she instantly realized: “This is the only place for me here.” The center is a haven for the LGBTQ youth who make up a disproportionate number of the young people experiencing homelessness in L.A. The center helps them confront challenges similar to those many other people in the streets face. Directors at the organization report that many of the youth experience depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. They describe repeated rapes, assaults and other abuse.
On her first night without a home, Kaityanna Phillips cried herself to sleep on a sidewalk in front of a Shell gas station in north Hollywood. But the center also helps them navigate an additional battle ― one for their own identity. While struggling to find stability, queer youth on the street are also struggling to carve out their own place in life. And as they fight to stay alive and stay true to themselves, the issues facing LGBTQ youth are quickly becoming one of the most complicated challenges in fighting homelessness in Los Angeles.
Phillips came to California in hopes of finding something better. Her community in Texas didn’t accept or understand her gender identity, and she didn’t feel safe or wanted in her hometown. So at the age of 20, though she had never left home before, Phillips left Texas for the promise of a better life in Los Angeles. “People see trans people as a disgrace,” Phillips said, leaning back in her chair and tugging down on her bright pink shirt. “Even in the LGBT community. No one wants to talk about us. No one wants to help us. So when you walk in the center, and you’re their first priority… you never want to leave.”
Three years after her move, she laughs recalling that first night on the street. “I thought I was going to die. For real, I thought that was it,” she said. “‘Lay me down, I’m gonna die, it’s over.’ And that was just the first night.” Since then, she’s had more than a dozen “addresses” in tents on the sidewalks of Hollywood. The center remains the closest thing she has to a home. Providing the complex and personalized care that young people like Phillips need is a large and difficult job.
There is little research into the mental health of LGBTQ youth, especially in the scope of homelessness studies, and none specifically focused on trans and nonbinary youth. But the few existing studies indicate that queer people end up on the street in disproportionate numbers. LGBTQ youth account for 40 percent of young people on the street nationwide, according to the Center for American Progress. The same study has found that while about 20 percent of U.S. teens in general are queer, 40 percent of homeless U.S. teens are queer. There is no precise data for the number of LGBTQ youth living on the streets of L.A.
he conditions in her tent raise additional concerns about the months ahead. Many people who undergo this kind of affirmation surgery do it in two stages — first the breast enhancement, then the vaginoplasty, or vice versa. Phillips plans to do it all at once. The healing process takes three months, with risks ranging from discomfort to bleeding that could require hospitalization. Phillips’ tent is shaded in the afternoons, but at noon it takes the full brunt of the blazing sun. Over the summer, when temperatures rose into the triple digits, simply sitting up became an exhausting task.