True Fellow Lele Exum is on a mission to end youth homelessness in the North Star state.
My name is Lele Exum and I am thrilled to be this year’s Advocacy Fellow. Over the course of my fellowship, I will be working to activate the recommendations from the State Index on Youth Homelessness in my home state of Minnesota. Thanks to the State Index – a new resource that evaluates all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness – we know that Minnesota has a lot more work to do towards preventing and ending youth homelessness.
Born and raised in Shakopee, MN, I know firsthand the unique challenges and struggles that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in Minnesota face and I hope that by sharing the experiences I have faced, I can raise awareness to the public on the shared responsibility we must all take in ending youth homelessness.
Unlike so many other LGBTQ youth, I grew up with a great and supportive family, but due to my addiction and mental health struggles I had lost everything. After I got sober the last time, my now wife, son, and I were struggling to find housing and get a good education. Luckily we had the opportunity to get housing and I graduated with my high school diploma at age 21 and have made it through my first year of college with a 4.0.
It was not easy to get where we are today. Our family structure had a lot to do with keeping us from getting housing. My wife and I were not married when she was pregnant with our son. Because we were same-sex, shelters did not recognize us as a family unit. We could not get into shelters together, so it was hard trying to get housed. All people and all family structures should be able to get equal access to safe supportive housing. I just want to make sure other LGBTQ youth and young families can get the support and resources they need.
Currently, 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ. Additionally, LGBTQ youth have a 120% increased risk of experiencing homelessness compared to youth who identify as heterosexual and cisgender. I am determined to open new doors and opportunities for other LGBTQ youth and all youth experiencing homelessness. Everyone deserves an education and everyone deserves a roof over their head and a place to call home. This is why, as the 2018 Advocacy Fellow, I want to ring the alarm.
“All people and all family structures should be able to get equal access to safe supportive housing. I just want to make sure other LGBTQ youth and young families can get the support and resources they need.”
The State Index helps leaders take concrete steps to end youth homelessness.
As the 2018 Advocacy Fellow, I’ll be specifically advocating to eliminate barriers to emancipation in Minnesota. Sometimes, youth are not given the opportunity to thrive because they are in unstable environments and may need permission from guardians in order to access services. The truth is – many young people are capable of taking care of themselves, and they deserve to get the support they need if parents are not capable or supportive.
I will also be working to protect youth based on their sexual orientation and gender identity within state runaway and homeless youth programs. These programs should promote safe and inclusive environments. Youth who are at risk of or are experiencing homelessness have enough drama and stress to deal with. There should never be barriers to accessing emergency services.
I cannot wait to work with advocates, policymakers, and other young people to help bring change and support for LGBTQ youth to the State of Minnesota and through the True Advocacy fellowship, I know that work as an advocate has just begun!
Here’s how you can take action.
Wondering where your state stands on youth homelessness? Look up your State Index on Youth Homelessness score and tell your governor: “We can do better!”