For three months, Chloe Noble and Jill Hardman have been living out of backpacks and sleeping on the streets of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. They walk miles every day, and depend on the kindness of strangers. These women aren’t actually homeless — but they very well could be.
Noble and Hardman are the creators of Homeless Youth Pride Walk 2009, a 6,000-mile trek across the country to raise awareness and support for the large population of homeless youth that is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Between 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, which the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force terms an “epidemic” in their 2006 report.
The two women are Salt Lake City residents who grew up in Mormon families — experiencing the LGBT discrimination of the LDS church firsthand (something HCN covered last fall), which hasn’t subsided given the outrage over the “kiss-in” protest last week. Hardman has never been homeless, but Noble, 37, lived on the streets for a decade after leaving home when she was 20.
Noble and Hardman visited their hometown last Saturday, after walking through parts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California since starting their journey in May. They have been hosting a series of rallies titled “Operation Shine” in every major city, documenting their trip along the way through their blog and Youtube clips. The pair plans to make a full-length documentary at the end of the six to eight month walking and road trip.
A 2009 paper from the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that of over 100,000 homeless youth, one in five self-identify as LGBT. They're at increased risk for mental health problems, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and victimization, even by shelter staff.
The Task Force reports that in one study over 25 percent of gay youth were kicked out of their homes when they came out to their parents. But groups like the National Alliance to End Homelessness are working to change that, in part by appealing to President Obama in a letter undersigned by almost 200 local and national organizations, pushing for increased federal support of homeless youth.
Thus the importance of Hardman and Noble’s work: "We must teach individuals who happen to be homeless that they are allowed to start over; that their life can be perceived as wildly abundant,” writes Noble.