Crossing the threshold, visitors are greeted by the home’s executive director, Jennifer Scacco, in the same warm and comforting manner that greets the kids who come to live here. It’s a warmth that’s often new to these kids.
Casa Q is a transitional living facility for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, or LGBTQ, youths – the only home of its kind in New Mexico.
Scacco’s bright and engaging eyes dimmed a bit as she informed me that almost 4,000 children and teens in the Albuquerque area are either homeless or dangerously close, and that 20 percent to 40 percent of them are LGBTQ.
“The work is so important, and so needed; the statistics are staggering,” said Sara Roman, a Casa Q staff member.
“This is a really unique service we’re offering, and we’re serving a population that has, historically, been underserved and marginalized,” Scacco said, pointing out that many existing resources for homeless youths are not fully prepared or trained to serve this population.
Casa Q provides a knowledgeable and supportive environment for LGBTQ youths ages 14 to 18. And Scacco says LGBTQ youths are more at risk of homelessness for several reasons, including family rejection.
Some of the kids run away, or are taken out of dangerous situations by the state Children, Youth and Families Department, and are often referred to Casa Q by organizations such as Youth Development Inc., New Day or other local shelters.
The Bernalillo County-owned home in Northeast Albuquerque opened to residents in January and has fluctuated between four and six kids. It is licensed through CYFD to house up to 10. Kids’ stays have ranged from one to five months.
In addition to nutritious meals and a safe place to sleep, Roman said, residents receive tutoring, medical care and individualized therapy, “basically everything they need.”
The staff teaches life skills, including goal planning, cooking, and maintaining physical and emotional health, Scacco said.
“We work with youth to help identify their long-term plan for success, which may be transitional living, higher education, returning home or to another family member,” she said.
The home has an annual operating budget of $391,000, funded by several sources, including a Bernalillo County Social Services grant, CYFD and donations from businesses, individuals and private foundations.
“Maintaining funding is always an issue,” Scacco said. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit is seeking recurring monthly donors to help cover everything from household supplies to field trips to guest speakers. “Even $20 a month is helpful.”
Roman said neighbors were opposed to the home at first, but Casa Q advocates successfully gained support.
Alex Morgan, president of the local neighborhood association, agreed.
“There was a lot of opposition at the beginning,” he wrote in a email about a meeting in which the issue was discussed. “But soon other people voiced their positive opinions about this home and its upcoming occupants, which turned the meeting around in favor of Casa Q.”
“It’s been really beautiful to see that happen,” Roman said, smiling. “We’re really good neighbors; we pull our weeds and bring our trash cans in on time. We’re showing [our residents] this is how you be a good neighbor.”
Artwork is everywhere throughout the house, including a giant black wall in the den where residents can express themselves with chalk in all colors of the rainbow.
“Art has become a crucial point,” Roman said of art’s therapeutic and social value, “whether we’re painting a mural in the house, or making cute little thank-you cards for our donors and volunteers.”
The teens benefit from the supportive environment. “When you see them empowering each other, you know they’re modeling what they’re seeing.”
In addition, Scacco said, Casa Q works to educate schools, doctors and other service providers on LGBTQ issues and connects them with resources to make appropriate referrals.
“It’s not just about serving the kids in the house; it’s also about serving our community.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joel Wigelsworth at 823-3844 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.