LGBT Center of Greater Reading
More LGBTQ-friendly transitional housing is “desperately needed” in Reading, advocates say
Last week, U.S. House Republicans blocked a HUD grant for the LGBT Center of Greater Reading that would have allowed them to open up a new space.
Every week at least one person goes to the LGBT Center of Greater Reading seeking housing assistance. The clients are often young adults, between the ages of 18 and 24, many of whom are fleeing homes that do not accept them.
The center does not have the shelter space needed to house and provide wraparound services to all of their clients in one place, so intake specialists often refer their clients to partner shelters in Berks County, which are usually at full capacity, or to LGBTQ-affirming centers in other counties.
“In the past year, I have had to send an 18-year-old to New York City, because we did not have transitional housing here for her, “ said Aaron Rineer, director of clinical services.
“Two individuals – one in their 30s, one in their 50s – were both looking to get out of their living situation, and rather than being closer to the center where we could better serve them, we had to send them to rural areas in Berks County.”
The center was set to receive a one-time grant of $970,000 through the U.S. Department of Housing and Development’s Community Project Funding program, which allows House members from every state to nominate up to 15 projects for federal funding. The funds were secured by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester), and the center was going to buy a building that could house at least four people in separate rooms.
But last week a group of House Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee blocked the funding for Reading’s center and for two other LBGTQ community programs in Philadelphia and in Massachusetts.
Reading center CEO Michelle Dech said her team had sought the funding for a long time, and had previously used federal money to operate their drop-in center seven days a week.
The center also runs a food pantry and serves about 12,000 to 15,000 people a year, Dech said. Having a dedicated shelter space would have allowed them to provide mental health services, job readiness support, and facilitate access to healthcare in one place.
“Being able to receive the funding and move forward with the project would have enabled us to hire some more people,” she said. “Our staff would’ve grown. We would’ve been able to provide some jobs. We would’ve taken people off the street who are homeless.”
Rineer, who wrote the grant proposal that was denied, said transportation is a main barrier among unhoused people seeking help in rural areas. The center has satellite offices in Columbia, Lebanon, Pottstown and Schuylkill County, where there are few shelter options. Sometimes, options that are aligned with Christian conservative values could be less safe for their clients.
“We are very lucky in this area and several of the areas that we work in to have, shelter institutions, to have housing institutions accepting,” Rineer said. “But there are certain shelters, in this area, in other areas that we know that we can’t refer to.” Rineer mentioned one client staying in a Christian shelter who is afraid of disclosing information about their sexual and gender identity.
GOP members who voted against sending money to the projects, including Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said the funds were “problematic,” and claimed they could be used to discriminate against people who are against LGBTQ lifestyles.
Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a Republican, criticized the Reading center for providing services to children as young as 7.
Those services are support groups for parents of LGBTQ children who might be as young as 7. The center works with licensed therapists trained to work with young children and their parents who are going through emotional or psychological distress.
Dech said the blocked federal funds are only a “temporary setback” and that the center will continue to work with Houlahan to secure the funding. In the meantime, the center has received community support, in the form of phone calls and donations.
Students from Drexel University’s West Reading campus surveyed 13 young clients seeking services at the center and found almost 42% had thoughts of running away from home; 75% had experienced being insulted, humiliated or put down by a parent or caregiver.
A 2022 Trevor Project national report found 28% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness at least once in their life.