Fashion for Action is just around the corner and this year the funds raised will benefit Housing Works’ Youth Outreach programs, four distinct programs designed to connect young people to healthcare through street outreach and online networking. The programs focus on at-risk youth in underserved areas of Brooklyn where young gay, transgender and non-gender conforming people of color ages 13-29 are particularly at risk for HIV transmission. In addition, 1 in 14 suffers from serious psychological distress; and are 4.2 times more likely to be hospitalized for drug use. Young Men who have sex with Men (YMSM) account for nearly 72% of all new HIV cases for men ages 13-24.
We recently sat down with Bobby Leonard, a Youth Outreach specialist, to learn more about his role in the organization and need for support for young people in key populations. Bobby works in the Kiki scene, a mostly underground community, connecting kids aged 13 – 24 to support and care created to meet their specific needs.
Housing Works: Name, location, occupation
Bobby Leonard, I live in East New York, Brooklyn, Outreach Specialist for Housing Works Youth Outreach.
HW: Tell us about a typical day as an Outreach Specialist at Housing Works’ Outreach for Homeless Youth Program?
BL: My day varies depending on the case per client, engaging with clients, keeping up with their medical appointments, reaching out to them to come in. If they’re an HIV-Positive client, linking them to medical care, doing domestic case management, linking them to our Undetectables program. We do a lot of service plans with our clients so they feel that we help them with their needs. A service plan is a something we put together to see where it is that the client is, and where they’re trying to get to. Whether it’s medical, mental health, housing and other social resources.
HW: How did you learn about Housing Works?
BL: I found out about Housing Works almost 4 years ago through a friend, I came here first as a volunteer. I volunteered for 6 months and there was a position available for me. At first when I volunteered I packaged and passed out condoms to the community during outreach. Connecting the community to HIV testers at the time.
HW: What do you wish more people knew or understood about the kids you work with?
BL: With the demographic I work with, mostly LGBT kids 13 – 24, a lot of the kids are rejected from their homes for being LGBT and kicked out to the street. I would say to anybody, a friend, mother, even a stranger is that kids are human and people too. They need the right environment to grow in to reach their potential. A lot of these kids are artists and talented, smart kids. Give them the tools that the need to reach their full potential.
HW: We heard you were/are into the ballroom scene in your native Chicago, what drew you to that scene?
BL: I walked the schoolboy realness category. I was always a figure in the kiki scene. I started in Chicago, and then I moved here, I realized that the scenes just how the scenes are connected from state to state. So when I started working at Housing Works and it made it a lot easier to transition here.
HW: What are you most looking forward to at Fashion for Action?
BL: I love seeing the creativity and the passion that goes into fashion.
HW: Anything you’d like to add?
BL: The biggest challenge in my role is finding housing for those who don’t qualify for a program. Doing the work that I do, we find ourselves digging and scrambling to find HIV-negative clients a place to sleep.