Protect Queer Youth

Illinois’ first foster care home for LGBTQ+ youth is changing lives

In March, Illinois’ first foster care home LGBTQ+ youth opened its doors. Months later, the queer youth who have found reliable meals and housing through the program have told PinkNews they are “grateful every day.”

Avers Home is a Transitional Living Program (TLP) run by Lawrence Hall and based on the North Side of Chicago. It provides queer youth ages 18-19 the support they need to transition into independent living after many have faced neglect or rejection from family members over their identities.

According to the HRC, LGBTQ+ youth are “overrepresented” in foster care, accounting for 30% of the over 391,000 youth enrolled in the system nationwide. It is to address the needs of these youth that Avers opened its doors, creating a space overseen by a staff of over 90% LGBTQ+ community members.

Renee Lehocky, director of strategic initiatives at Lawrence Hall, told PinkNews, “Some youth would say they’d rather be on the streets than in foster care, and they’d run as they saw no one around them like them.”

In addition to therapy services and training on job networking and community building, the Avers home makes LGBTQ+ affirmation a core focus, which is more than many foster homes can say. “There’s also the LGBTQ+ stuff going on and we don’t make that invisible,” said Lehocky. “Allowing it to be visible is a game-changer for these youths and also for the training that all our trainers go through.”

The Avers home has experienced enormous success—but they are only one home in the end. “I hope that it grows and other people pick up the bottle,” Lehocky said. “We’ve filled up the home so quickly so we know there’s a big need. We want others to see what we’re doing and open [more homes] because Illinois is a big state.”

In order to fill this demand, the group is currently in negotiations with the Department of Children and Family Services to open a second home serving LGBTQ+ teens ages 14 to 17. In the meantime, the current residents at Avers had nothing but praise for the transitional program.

One young resident, Steve, said, “Staff are pretty professional with the youth, they always make sure they answer the phone if we need something. If I have an issue as far as health or transportation, they’re always down to help, and give advice if we are feeling down and blue.”

“Avers has given me a very rare chance that not many people get,” said another resident, Jenny. “I’m grateful for that every day.”

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