Liniște, a 22-year-old gay woman who is experiencing homelessness, sits on the ground outside the STEPS youth drop-in center to deal with the stress she said she feels about her friend who has gone missing for a few days. Liniște said she is worried something bad happened to him. "I'm gonna lose it if he's dead," she said.
FOR HOMELESS LGBTQ YOUTH IN GREATER BOSTON, THERE ARE NO SAFE SPACES
Liniște and her LGBTQ peers are overrepresented among homeless youth and young adults. LGBTQ teens and young adults experiencing homelessness say prejudice excludes them from many services, while the dangers of being “out” keep others from even trying to access them in the first place. Beyond the difficulties they face due to their sexual or gender identity, Liniște and her peers—who each have greatly varying experiences—exist in the gap between youth and adult services. As a result, many resort to dangerous activities—including sex work, petty theft and other criminal behavior—just to get money, food or a place to sleep.
Liniște, right, and her girlfriend Tay walk in a queer and trans liberation march in downtown Boston. Liniște is involved in activism related to LGBTQ issues and suicide prevention.
Liniște leads a session during a workshop for the NAN Project, an organization where she works that tries to prevent youth suicide. Even as she wades through the challenges of homelessness, depression, anxiety and HIV-positive status, Liniște spends much of her time working for organizations such as the NAN Project and the Sex Workers Outreach Project.
Liniște eats a bowl of a chicken noodle soup in the kitchen of the STEPS youth drop-in center. Liniște said this is her first meal in about three days, but she's not sure since she hasn't been sleeping and the days have blurred together.
Liniște says the relationship with her current girlfriend, Tay, has been the single most hopeful thing steering her away from suicide. They met up one evening after trading notes on social media and then lay out on a field outside the city and talked for hours. They stayed up all night, pointed at the stars and soaked in each other’s silence. After that night, Liniște says she went a whole month—one of her longest stretches—without a single suicidal thought because Tay made her so happy.
For a two-week stretch last October, Liniște stayed at a friend’s apartment in Roxbury. Although her stay was only a brief sanctuary from the streets, Liniște says she rarely spends so much time inside and isn’t always comfortable despite the relative warmth. “It’s so weird to be inside,” she says. “Isn’t it like semi-suffocating?
Liniște spends some time at drop-in centers, but she finds these spaces increasingly difficult to be in. Among other problems, Liniște says she often feels obligated to share her personal history with others in these programs for the sake of putting them at ease with an unfamiliar face. These compounding factors—obligatory openness and fear of others—make it hard for Liniște to be in spaces like that, even when they cater to LGBTQ youth. Being on the sidewalk is easier—you can choose who to be around and don’t owe your comfort to anyone else.
Flashbacks and resulting suicidal thoughts are common for Liniște. On one occasion, she says Tay saved her life by telling her, “I don’t want you to go, just like period.” “That’s exactly what I needed to hear and that saved me,” Liniște says. “I’ve been the only one telling myself that.”
Being homeless, Liniște is nearly always in public, which means it’s hard to escape stares, sarcasm and even downright aggression. The fear of sexual or physical assault is not so much rooted in “if” but rather “when,” she says. “If you don’t have some sort of secure shelter, or some place that has a lock, even if that doesn’t happen to you, you constantly live with that fear that it could.”
When things get to be too much, Liniște thinks back to a piece of advice from a middle school teacher: Go up there, take a few deep breaths and start your presentation. That advice today is the last line of the suicide prevention comeback story Liniște shares at high schools with the NAN Project. “I take deep breaths often, and above all, I just be.”