A “street-free sleep” initiative for LGBTQ young adults is making its mark on the Nashville community. Historically an emergency shelter, Nashville Launch Pad focuses on making their organization inviting and welcoming to LGBTQ individuals. For the first five years of their existence, the shelter was mattresses on the floor of churches. Now, they have been able to provide short-term apartment-style housing for their community. Operating during the cold winter months, the nonprofit is able to help house individuals while they look for jobs, learn new job skills or even just locate their high school transcript.
Nashville Launch Pad has partnered with events to raise money and support, such as Drag Bingo at Acme Feed & Seed, selling candles by My Cluck Hut and more. Their next big fundraising event will be at The Big Payback on May 4-5. Through community support, Nashville Launch Pad hopes to grow their organization to help LGBTQ young adults for longer periods of time. Executive Director Ty Brown sat down to chat with us a little bit more about their program
Can you tell me a little bit about Nashville Launch Pad and what you do?
We do this work to keep LGBTQ folks in [the 18-24] age range out of the larger homeless shelters. They tend to be more vulnerable, get exploited, worry about sex trafficking and things like that. We got a special government grant last year that allowed us to put guests into motels. So, everybody had a motel room. It’s very, very expensive to do it that way. But because of the grant, we’re able to. We ended up having about 50 folks who came throughout the five months for some length of time. This year came around, and we had to figure out what we wanted to do.
I just completely fell in love with this program up in New York City called the Ali Forney Center. It turns out that they actually had gotten a grant to do consulting so that other agencies can kind of replicate their model. We were there for a three- or four-day-long conference. So, that [model is] where we’re headed right now. What we’re doing is called scattered-site housing, or emergency housing. It’s LGBTQ young people sharing a very small, intimate setting. We’ve got two apartments with up to six people in each apartment, and each apartment is staffed.
And then, the idea of this program is that while they’re staying with us, they can take care of all those little details that are hard to take care of when you’re just bouncing around from couch to couch. We do have a third apartment that we do not have the funding to staff independently. The idea behind the third apartment, though, is the next phase of our growth, which is a transitional living environment. It’s longer term, [so guests] will stay up to a year and a half. It’s not going to change the fact that there's very little affordable housing in Nashville, but it will allow people the best chance that they can have.
Most LGBTQ people that come have been rejected by the people who are supposed to support them and love them unconditionally. So, they do not necessarily trust being around other people. Being with entirely LGBTQ folks creates a chance for a little bit of healing and a chance to understand you can choose a family and you can make a family. There’s no LGBTQ programs that are going to get money from the state of Tennessee.
Nashville’s city does not put any money into shelter programs, really at all. The understanding here is you’ve got the big mission. Chronic homelessness is an issue that should be addressed and requires a lot of resources. But for relatively little investment, you can get a lot more of the folks in this age group sort of on track. So, I really, really hope that we can sort of begin to put the idea out there that Nashville needs to invest in this.
Since you have been figuring out some different ways to run your program over the years, what kind of steps are you taking in order to gain some more support?
The first budget that I remember seeing for Nashville was $77,000. Our budget this year is over $600,000. We’re still working on raising all of that money, but the way we’ve done that has been inefficient because we didn’t have a lot of expertise. We certainly try to communicate with supporters, but we are also starting to write grants. And now, that’s become a regular part of our funding. We have wonderful partners, like The [Dan and Margaret Maddox Fund], Memorial, and we get some corporate partners. Now, Jackson [National Life] Insurance has a little grant program that they run.
So, we’re trying to build those partnerships. And we’re also trying to do a better job of seeking out individuals who we know would be interested in our work and have a little spare cash and getting the word out to them and doing it in a more systematic and deliberate way. We’re bringing more money in than we ever have, but there’s a ton of potential there. I believe, especially in the LGBTQ community, there are people out there who, if they really understood what we were doing, would be lining up to support this work. So, we just have to get the word to them.
What kind of impact have you already seen on the community?
For the first five years of our existence, we were not really an official part of the Continuum of Care. Every city that gets HUD funding to help with people experiencing homelessness has to have a Continuum of Care. The idea of that system is for agencies to all work together so there’s the best chance of each individual getting connected with the right resource. So, for the first five years, it was “Welcome to Launchpad” on November 1; on March 31, “Good luck. See you next year!” We did not like that feeling. We have no idea really what happened to folks, except the ones we kind of stayed in touch with.
We’ve partnered with the Oasis Center, and they do the rapid rehousing. We can contact them easily. We help them get transportation. We have begun to, for example, create a bank of therapists who are willing to work at either no cost or low cost. We run a weekly group for people, and the idea is to help our guests also become comfortable with protecting themselves and healing themselves emotionally, interacting with other people holding boundaries, and just working on those issues that we all need to work on so that they are in the best position to succeed.
It doesn’t just take money. You might have to have a roommate, you’ve got to go get a job, you’ve got to be able to talk to people, [and] you’ve got to deal with depression, PTSD and anxiety. I see it happening. I see the things they talk about in group boundaries or conflict resolution, things like that. I see them filtering through the lives of the folks who are staying with us, and I can’t put a number on that. But I know that that’s also going to have a huge impact in their lives as they go forward.
So, you help people navigate their lives and kind of create a stepping stone for them right now, but what are some of your long-term goals for the organization?
Shelters are the first point of entry. It's a safe place where you can at least sleep that night, get a meal and begin to interact with folks who can connect you to resources. Hopefully, this year, we’ll also have a case manager. Then, you’ve got more emergency housing, which is what we’re doing now. And we don’t really have a time limit on this housing, because we do not have transitional living facilities yet. But it’s meant to be a little bit shorter term. So, we want people to be able to stay longer term. I would like to see some housing specifically for our trans youth. That sweep from just emergency shelter all the way up to transitional living is what we’d like to fill. We’d like to have our own building. Our office is a church basement, and we’ve got these two apartments. That would be the ultimate vision.
In order to get there, what can the community do to help out and get involved in the organization?
One thing that has been difficult for us is that we have been so volunteer-driven. We love our volunteers, but we do not have a big volunteer role while COVID is still in effect. There’s not a whole lot of ways to do that unless somebody wants to make a commitment to come in regularly. So, when the shelter is back up and running, volunteer opportunities will be there. Specialists volunteer would be great — people who know web design or things like that. We need space. Preferably a space we could use every night. And of course, we always need funding. This is a very labor-intensive process. We want to be able to pay, and we want to pay well enough to attract people who have some experience. If you go to our website, there’s a way to donate. And we have a physical mailing address: P.O. Box 330695, Nashville, Tennessee 37203. We’ll take a check.
Do you have any favorite experiences from your time working here?
This young, trans man walked in and was so uncommunicative. It turned out that this person had been in another shelter situation for a couple months and had been misgendered as a matter of policy — not just a matter of people forgetting — and was just traumatized by the experience. All we could do was offer the overnight stay. But he kept coming back, and he kept coming back, and he kept coming back. At the end of the shelter season, somebody had said something that was kind of bullying. This young man was in his face, not in a fighting way, but in an “I’m standing up for myself, and there’s nothing you’re going to do about it” way. It was amazing to see the level of confidence that this person had built. And we do see things like that.