Salvation Army field worker sees increase in gay applicants
Gay homeless people from Dallas are seeking help from The Salvation Army office in Lewisville, and they are willing to relocate to get it, according to a field worker in the Denton County city office.
Michael Raven, facility director for the Meadows Social and Community Services Center, said he has already processed six cases involving gay homeless people this year and a seventh application was just received. The six cases represent 4 percent of the 153 cases processed through Aug. 31, he said.
“It just floored me this year the overall increase in people from the gay community applying for assistance,” said Raven, who noted he had seen much smaller numbers in the previous four years he has worked in that office. “It was an alarming increase.”
Raven said the people who have sought his help typically lived “paycheck to paycheck,” and job losses or emergency expenses had caused them to lose their homes. The cases involved both single people and couples, he said.
“They were just one paycheck away from becoming not self sufficient,” said Raven, who is also gay.
Raven said he attributes the increase in gay applicants to word spreading that he is also gay and wants to reach out to others in the LGBT community who need help.
“‘I’m glad of that,” said Raven, who recently was appointed executive chair of the Denton County Homeless Coalition. “I want them to know they do have a place to come if there is a need.”
Raven said the only hitch is that the assistance he can provide is tied to Denton County. He is able to provide rent money for one to two months from a federal grant program that provides emergency shelter assistance, he said.
“As long as they will stay in Lewisville, I can give them shelter,” Raven said. “As long as they are willing to migrate, that’s fine. They move to Lewisville from Dallas to keep a roof over their head.”
Raven said he is also able to make referrals to apartment complexes, provide assistance with food and make referrals for help in locating jobs.
“If they follow up on the referral services, they should have no problem in becoming self sufficient in a couple of months,” Raven said.
Raven said he is reaching out to the LGBT community to let them know about the assistance that is available because he is concerned some people will avoid seeking help from The Salvation Army over past controversies concerning the national organization. The Christian group has been criticized by gay rights activists for failing to adopt an employment policy that prohibits anti-gay discrimination and for failing to provide domestic partnership benefits in connection with a controversy that arose in 2001.
As a result of the controversy, a gay rights group launched a boycott against the organization.
Raven said he wants to assure the LGBT community that programs operated by The Salvation Army are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It is just understood through our mission statement to meet every human need without discrimination,” Raven said. “They could be a Martian from Mars and if they come here, I’m gonna help them because that’s what we stand for.”
Pat Patey, a spokesman for the organization’s Dallas area, said all employees of The Salvation Army are required to provide assistance to all people equally at all of the organization’s offices. There may be a lingering perception that the organization is anti-gay, and the local organization would like to dispel that, he said.
“It may appear that way, but I’m hoping no one with our organization was doing that in the past,” Patey said. “I hope we are staying true to our core principles.”
Patey said he hopes concerns about past controversies are fading.
“I hope that’s behind us,” Patey said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 28, 2007
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