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Project Rainbow looking to open state’s first LGBTQ+ shelter, safe haven

Members of the LGBTQ+ community may experience discrimination in many aspects of life, but the inability to find housing is often a struggle that goes unaddressed, particularly in the 18-24 age range.

Cassidy Thompson works with people who are unsheltered and members of the LGTBQ+ community, as the Harm Reduction director at Milan Puskar Health Right.  Through their work, she and co-workers began to identify a need for change for unsheltered LGBTQ individuals.

“The circumstances surrounding LGBTQ homelessness is oftentimes different than the circumstances surrounding someone who doesn’t identify as a part of that community,” Thompson said.  “Many people who are homeless that are LGBTQ+ have been abandoned, alienated, or rejected from their families.”

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming people are more likely to experience housing instability, housing discrimination and homelessness.  It’s claimed LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ youth. 

Thompson said there is a big gap in services for unsheltered LGBTQ people who often experience a lot of violence and hate at shelters.

“For example, we all work together with a trans female, and when she was on the street she was the victim of violence and a lot of harassment, especially in the shelter setting,” Thompson said.  “And it’s at no fault of the emergency shelters, it’s just when you have 80 people ganging up on one person that’s very hard to police and it’s hard to keep that person safe because you are not there all the time.”

From this need, Project Rainbow was born.  Thompson, who serves as board president for the newly founded organization, said the main goal of the group is to raise funds to open Rainbow House, which will work as a shelter and safe haven for members of the LGBTQ community who need help.

Thompson said Rainbow House, which would be the first shelter of its kind in West Virginia, would work not only as an emergency shelter or transitional situation for LGBTQ people in immediate need, but would also be a service hub for housing resources, healthcare, mental healthcare and, most importantly, gender-affirming care. 

Thompson spoke of an 18-year-old male she recently met. He was kicked out of his home because of his sexuality and Thompson said that is, unfortunately, the story for a lot of the people the new organization is hoping to serve.  

“These are people that don’t have family support, so we are hoping to just wrap around these people and connect them with support and help them feel like they’re part of the community when they’re facing this rejection,” she said.  “Especially when it’s coupled with homelessness, because homelessness is so politicized in general, it can seem disparaging to be part of two very marginalized populations.”

Currently, the main goals for Project Rainbow are fundraising and finding a location for Rainbow House. They want to open “as soon as humanly possible,” Thompson said.

To help raise funds for the shelter, the group is hosting an event Thursday called “Drag Me to Bingo Art Auction and Fundraiser.”

The event will consist of a drag bingo show featuring drag performers from all over the state and an art auction with pieces donated by West Virginia.  Thompson said they have received a lot of donated prize baskets from allies and members of the LGBTQ community all over West Virginia.

“That’s been a really heartwarming thing to see – the community kind of like wrap around this need,” she said.

The fundraiser will take place from 6-11 p.m. at Morgantown Art Party, 218 Walnut St., in downtown Morgantown.

As the community finds out about Project Rainbow, Thompson said organizers are seeing growing support, but volunteers are still needed, particularly when the shelter opens.

“Anyone that wants to be involved in any capacity — whether it’s just working on social media with us, advocacy, food drop offs – reach out on social media to find out how you can help,” she said.

Project Rainbow is accepting monetary donations via an crowdfunding campaign titled, Project Rainbow Kickstarter Campaign.  You can also find out other ways to donate by messaging the Project Rainbow Facebook page or @project_rainbow_wv Instagram.