Rainbow House Coalition is set to open its first house for at-risk LGBTQ youth across the Atlanta metro, and at the beginning of March, several tenants will have a new home.
“We have proven that LGBTQ youth excel and blossom when they are in a supportive environment of others like themselves,” said Rick Westbrook, executive director and founder of Rainbow House Coalition. “Our homeless numbers increase yearly to the point of epidemic proportions. RHC offers a way to free up space in programs for youths that need more intensive attention.”
The idea came about after Westbrook left Lost N’ Found Youth. His husband demanded he take three months off and figure out what to do next. He soon realized a major hurdle for homeless LGBTQ youth was a lack of affordable housing in the metro. That’s when the Rainbow House Coalition was born.
“Rainbow House Coalition believes that affordable housing is a right and not a privilege,” said Westbrook. “Our city faces an extreme lack of affordable and shelter systems to accommodate the needs of people on the street, especially LGBTQ youth.”
Currently, funding for the new house is solely funded through donations, but it’s not stopping Westbrook from making his dream a reality. He says it’s the community that’s been a driving force in the project.
“Our community and its supporters have always beckoned the call when I ask for help. We have always taken care of our own. I was supported when I came out and left home but these days, youth are standing proud, not like when my generation came out,” said Westbrook. “The problem is being in the Bible Belt, well over half are put out. Our youth are not disposable and our community will make sure that they get the chance they need to become the beautiful souls they are meant to be.”
The house, dedicated to trans brothers and sisters “at risk” or “transitioning out of homelessness,” will have five bedrooms with private baths, common areas, laundry, and kitchen. Each resident can stay as little or as long as they need depending on their situation and goals for the future. Westbrook says they already have several tenants ready to move in.
“The safety of a bed to sleep on, a roof over my head, and a door that locks behind me is something I haven’t had in almost a year now,” said Avan, a 19-year-old trans man from Augusta, Georgia. “It feels like a luxury to me. It’s comforting to not have to worry how my situation might change if my landlord or housemates discovered the history of my gender identity.”
He began transitioning in high school, but because of social backlash and discrimination, Avan left school and started living on his own. He faced mental, emotional and physical challenges as part of his journey to live
"At one point, I was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric program and was unemployed upon release. After sleeping in abandoned buildings for several months, I decided to hitch a ride to Atlanta,” he said. “I quickly landed a great new job, but still struggled to make ends meet while couchsurfing. I’m now 19 and my life looks completely different. Thanks to the Rainbow House Coalition, I now have a space of my own and can sleep soundly at night.”
Alongside Westbrook, a team of board members will help oversee funding and oversight of those tenants, including Victor Brady and Mark Gibson. The search is still on for three more board members.