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Cover Story

Kicked out for coming out

Zebra Coalition gives homeless LGBTQ kids a helping hand

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

"Any time you have youth between the ages of 13 and 18, you need to have background checks," Stephens says. "There's too much turnover among our volunteers. It gets too expensive."

Needless to say, Stephens says, the Center is "thrilled to have the Zebra Coalition House become our neighbors on Mills Avenue. We look forward to planning joint events for the youth along with providing support for the various programs."

That support, according to Stephens, will primarily focus on "working toward developing an LBGT-friendly group of foster parents for future placement in Orange County."

Until that foster-parent network exists, the Zebra Coalition House can guide young people to a safe haven. Even if the kids who come through the door do not specifically identify as LGBTQ, Foxworth says that any teen in need is welcome. "We don't turn anybody away," he says. "We work with any kid that comes to us."

More importantly, it will give young people of all orientations and backgrounds the support system they need. "I've always had a supportive family," says Anthony Armstrong, development coordinator for the Zebra Coalition. "We just want to give kids the opportunities we had." In many cases, those opportunities manifest themselves immediately. While some clients, like Ruiz, are connected to the coalition through school administrators, others have been dropped off at the coalition's doorstep. On more than one occasion, staffers say, young people have celebrated their birthdays at the coalition, surrounded by staff and case managers who are helping them cope with a difficult, and often traumatizing, time in their lives.

Almost immediately after arriving at the Zebra Coalition House, a case manager sits with a young person and helps him or her come up with a case plan that includes goals (such as graduating from high school, attending college or getting a job). Clients are set up with emergency or short-term housing, and coalition staff and volunteers help them learn the life skills necessary to become self-sufficient. The house currently serves 14 clients, and it has reached out to an average of 1,900 young people, with a combination of street outreach, speaking engagements and anti-bullying campaigns in schools and communities in Orange County.

Foxworth hopes it will have enough momentum to push out to other counties. He says the coalition is working on bringing in partners that specialize in dealing with domestic violence and human trafficking.

For the kids it reaches, the help they get from the Zebra Coalition can mean the world. Just ask Peter Ruiz.

The organization gave him the reassurance that help is just a phone call away. When asked what the coalition means for him, he doesn't miss a beat: "It means knowing that home isn't that far away."

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