INDIANAPOLIS – Sara Alrajabi tells me about the moment she first lost her home.
She was trying to come to terms with her sexual orientation. She tried to talk with her parents about it. The conversation did not go well. They told her, she said, that she had to leave their house.
She was 17, a high school student.
Now she’s 25 and talking with me over the air with her fellow Trinity Haven board member Leigh Ann Hirschman, Trinity Haven executive director Jenni White and Indiana Youth Group chief executive officer Chris Paulsen.
Trinity Haven will be a transitional home for young people, such as Alrajabi, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning and are homeless. It is designed to be a welcoming, supportive place that helps these young people find their footing and move onto happy and productive lives.
The home is needed, Paulsen tells me, because Alrajabi’s story isn’t an isolated one.
Roughly 25 percent of all teenagers who try to come out with their families end up homeless or home insecure. In Indianapolis alone, that amounts to 800 kids per year.
Many end up on the streets, scrounging for safe places to sleep. They drop out of school. They make desperate, even tragic choices. Many run afoul of the law.
Alrajabi says staying clear of trouble is hard for a teen who’s no longer welcome at home. The young people who don’t have a place to stay always are worried about being dragged into juvenile court or becoming another number in the Department of Child Services system.
For a distressing number, that isn’t the worst-case scenario.
Paulsen and White say the suicide rates among Hoosier LGBTQ youth are 30 percent higher than for other young people – and Indiana’s teen suicide rate is among the highest in the nation.
Paulsen, White, Hirschman and Alrajabi talk about the productivity lost by casting this many young people aside. We talk about the strains on the system, the expenses born by the courts, the prisons and other parts of government that come as a result of abandoning so many children.
We tally costs in dollars and cents, because that’s the world we live in.
But I find myself coming back again and again to Alrajabi and her story. She’s a bright, thoughtful young woman. Anyone who talks with her for even a minute can grasp her potential, her promise.
And I think of my own children who are not much older than she was then. Heck, I think of myself at 17. The world at that age is a strange, large and overwhelming place. Most of us just want to find our place in it, somewhere we know we belong.
I ask Alrajabi what she wanted to hear from her parents when she was 17 and tried to tell them about who she was. I ask what would have helped.
The answer that comes is so basic, so human, it’s heartbreaking.
She wanted her parents to tell her she was accepted.
That she was valid.
That she was loved.
Alrajabi is eight years past that hard conversation with her parents. Their relationship is better now.
But she remembers those days of isolation, loneliness and fear. That’s why she’s so devoted to Trinity Haven. She knows how much it’s needed.
When it opens this summer, Trinity Haven will provide safe housing for 10 homeless LGBTQ youth at a time.
That’s 10 out of 800, little more than a grain of sand on a beach of despair.
The truth is we could use 40, 50 or 60 such homes in Indianapolis alone – and goodness knows how many around the rest of the state.
But it’s a start.
Trinity Haven will be a place of refuge for 10 young people in a harsh, often mean world.
For that reason alone, it’s a great idea.
I just wish, though, to and from the bottom of my soul, that this world was a different place, one where young people such as Alrajabi didn’t need to seek such shelter.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.