[Hpn] Holidays a time of heightened concern for gay runaways in San
Wed, 29 Nov 2000 16:31:18 -0700
Holidays a time of heightened concern for gay runaways in San Francisco
MARGIE MASON, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, November 29, 2000
©2000 Associated Press
(11-29) 01:44 PST SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Jason Karella told himself he was
gay at age 10. Seven years later, he told his mother. She told him to get
With nowhere to go, the youngster from Soldotna, Alaska, struck out for San
Francisco. It was a place that always looked warm and accepting on
Karella, now 24, long ago abandoned that idea. One of many young, lost souls
who run to San Francisco every year in search of a welcoming shoulder from
the gay community, Karella instead met with the twin scourges of the city's
runaway population -- homelessness and AIDS.
``I ran to San Francisco because people told me this was the gay mecca,''
said Karella, an HIV-positive drug abuser living in a shelter. ``I came
under false pretenses. People said they would help me, and they didn't.''
This time of year, the city's population of gay runaways tends to swell. The
holidays are when many youngsters choose to confront confusion about their
``It's a time when a lot of gay and lesbian people come out to families,''
said Stephen Russell, a gay youth educator at the University of California
at Davis. And if that decision backfires, San Francisco often is the first
place they turn.
``A lot of our youth try to go home,'' added Sam Cobbs, manager of the
Larkin Street Youth Center's LARK-Inn, one of two city shelters. ``What
usually happens is they get there and everything is fine and after the
leftover turkey is gone ... they're back in the same situation.''
After those short-lived reconciliations fail, Cobbs said, many of the same
faces show up looking for a bed.
No one is sure how many gay youngsters are living on the streets. A study by
the New York-based Streetwork Project, which provides outreach to street
youth, says 42 percent of homeless youth identify themselves as gay or
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates 26 percent of gay
youngsters are forced from their homes because of conflicts surrounding
their sexual orientation.
The Larkin shelter serves about 3,000 youngsters a year. Forty percent are
gay, lesbian or transgender, and approximately 10 percent are HIV-positive,
said Anne Stanton, executive director. That's five to 10 times higher than
the average reported at sexually transmitted disease clinics, she said.
``It's from drug use mostly,'' said Denise Albano, deputy director of
Gay males ages 13 to 24 made up 51 percent of the nation's AIDS cases
reported in 1998, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. As many as half of gay and bisexual males forced out of their
homes sell their bodies to survive, according to the Hetrick-Martin
Institute, a New York-based social service agency.
While many believe San Francisco is the best-equipped city to handle gay and
homeless issues, the city struggles to deal with the onslaught. There are no
gay-specific shelters, and that keeps many gay youngsters from requesting a
bed. They fear ridicule or beatings from straight kids bunking near them.
``Queer youth think it's a safe haven,'' said Mitch Thompson, manager of the
Eureka Valley Recreation Center. ``But there are less services now than
three years ago.''
Once runaways arrive in San Francisco, they're often surprised by the cold
northern California temperatures and the astronomical cost of living.
Even the historically liberal Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where homeless
youngsters beg for change, and the Castro District, with its large, visible
gay community, have not lived up to the national reputations they once
carried as areas of refuge.
``Kids hear about the Haight and they think it's just this magical place and
it's not,'' Cobbs said. ``This kid from Indiana thought, 'I'll go to San
Francisco where my people are,' and once he got here he said, 'I didn't
realize my people were rich.'''
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: http://www.ngltf.org
©2000 Associated Press
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