Kate Barnhart: The Godmother for At-Risk Queer Youth

On a Sunday afternoon in early March, in Hell’s Kitchen, Kate Barnhart is sitting in her crowded workplace in a constructing that doubles as a church. She’s hunched over her desk, snacking on a sweet cane, sporting a inexperienced and yellow floral costume and massive black glasses; she wears her grey hair in curls, with a cane propped by her aspect—she’s scheduled for again surgical procedure in a number of weeks.

Barnhart, who’s 46, serves as govt director of New Alternate options, a middle for homeless and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth ages 16 to 30. As of late, she’s centered on a seamless disaster: unemployment. As she’s scrolling via Fb messages from purchasers, an worker knocks on her door and explains that he’s been double-booked for tomorrow. Barnhart patiently means that he ask one other worker to take over one in all his obligations. Thirty minutes later, one other worker knocks with the same dilemma. Each of those employees, she explains, are former purchasers of New Alternate options. “Even years ago, when I was just starting as a caseworker, I hired former clients,” she says. “People know that young people need jobs, but nobody creates jobs for them.” She provides, “I like to put my money where my mouth is.” Employers inform her they wish to rent individuals with expertise. “Well, how are people going to get experience?” she calls for. “Let me hire people.”

As she walks via New Alternate options’ four-story constructing, Barnhart radiates a nurturing and motherly aura that extends effectively past West fortieth Avenue. J.D. Melendez, an worker and former consumer of Barnhart’s, notes that nearly her whole workers is made up of former purchasers. “That’s important because not only is it an income, it’s also a source of stability,” he says. “When you work with Kate, you’re given the chance to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and fail. It’s an entryway to a professional work environment.”

Queer youth undergo disproportionately from joblessness, with transgender youth significantly affected. A 2019 UCLA examine revealed that LGBT youth ages 18 to 24 skilled better charges of poverty and unemployment than some other age bracket, and fared far worse than nationwide averages. Bianca Wilson, a co-author of the examine, tells the Voice, “There are some LGBT specific components, where you see that LGBT young adults report experiencing rejection from their family because they’re LGBT.” She provides, “Even if they weren’t raised in poverty, the rejection because of LGBT bias by their family essentially cuts off that family resource. We also know that LGBT people experience higher levels of mental health distress and some forms of substance abuse that are often explained by experiencing LGBT discrimination.” When requested concerning the implications of this, Wilson explains, “That’s likely a pathway into the persistent economic disparities that we see among LGBT adults.”

The pandemic has solely exacerbated the issue. A 2021 Rutgers College examine of 1,090 LGBTQ+ Individuals discovered that half reported job loss throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The biggest loss occurred amongst 18- to 29-year-olds, comprising 42.1% of all those that turned unemployed throughout the pandemic. In distinction, a 2021 Congressional Analysis Service report discovered that 36.3% of 16- to 19-year-olds general and 27.9% of 20- to 24-year-olds turned unemployed throughout the pandemic, suggesting a disproportionate charge of unemployment for queer youth. And whereas Barnhart has lengthy had a difficult profession, the necessity for New Alternate options’ companies skyrocketed throughout the pandemic. “People sometimes have an extended family member, an aunt or somebody, who will take somebody in at least for a while,” she explains. “We saw less of that because people were afraid to take in people during Covid.” Relating to employment, she says, “We definitely had people who lost jobs during the pandemic.” She notes that demand for particular jobs elevated throughout the pandemic, akin to for supply employees, saying, “We had a lot of clients looking for bikes and signing up for those types of jobs.”

“LGBTQ folks structurally and systemically haven’t had the same opportunities to get comfortable and cushy jobs,” Kristen Krause, an creator of the Rutgers examine, tells the Voice. Amongst LGBTQ+ people, she provides, “There are a lot of people who are part of the gig economy.”  In 2020, the gig financial system elevated by 23 million members, in accordance with a 2021 DaVinci Funds examine. Regardless of its proliferation, nevertheless, these jobs typically have little to no job safety, together with medical health insurance or 401k plans, making gig employees extremely susceptible. Krause additionally sees employment disparity to be a results of an absence of bodily neighborhood areas throughout the pandemic. Earlier than Covid, queer youth may collect in bars, at neighborhood facilities, or at occasions, discovering connections and networking that might ceaselessly result in potential employment. “Those opportunities that could lead to jobs, that could lead to internships, they could lead to some type of position that would further someone’s career—we had a year and a half of that not being able to happen.”

Barnhart was born and raised in Brooklyn by mother and father who instilled a powerful sense of activism in her from a younger age. She ceaselessly mentions her dad, Addison, as inspiration for her work. Addison, a highschool instructor in East Harlem, labored with at-risk populations at school settings; he handed away in 2012. Barnhart says he liked hanging with New Alternate options purchasers, including that they noticed him as a grandfather-type determine. She additionally recollects that her mom, Grace, who died in 1999, was fairly the activist whereas finding out at Columbia within the late ’60s.

Barnhart has labored with at-risk youth for greater than 25 years. She started her profession at CASES, an alternative-to-incarceration program, as a caseworker. In 2001, she shifted to LGBTQ+ youth, working as a case supervisor on the Impartial Zone, a drop-in heart for queer youth, on Christopher Avenue; beginning in 2003, she served as director of Sylvia’s Place, an emergency shelter for homeless youth. In October 2008, she determined to discovered New Alternate options, after being annoyed with the shortage of individualized plans for her purchasers.

In what’s a uncommon second for Barnhart, she takes a number of weeks off in late March whereas recovering from her again surgical procedure. When the Voice speaks along with her once more, it’s early April, on a dark Sunday afternoon. Barnhart is on her third day again within the workplace. She is sporting a black “Trans Liberation” T-shirt, and staff and purchasers alike bombard her within the halls, inquiring about her restoration. “Oh, I’m doing, you know,” she responds to everybody, tiredness in her voice. In contrast to most Sunday afternoons, when Barnhart interacts with purchasers and workers throughout group dinners, she explains that she’ll keep in her workplace for the remainder of the night, not wanting to provide a surgical procedure replace to everybody she greets.

Past her pure heat, Barnhart has performed an incredible position within the profession trajectories of former purchasers and workers, akin to Melendez, 40, who wound up being employed by Barnhart six occasions. “I follow her around like the Grateful Dead,” he says, laughing. They met when he was 16, homeless and sleeping on bleachers within the Bronx. He was nonetheless figuring out as a lesbian then, and had left dwelling as a result of his Christian Latino household opposed his sexual orientation. Barnhart initially provided him a job as a road outreach employee on the Impartial Zone, the place he’d been a consumer and he or she was on workers. Melendez superior shortly, and Barnhart helped him get employed on the Greenwich Village Youth Council, a shelter for at-risk youth. With a number of jobs underneath his belt, she then advised that Melendez attend faculty, an concept he had by no means thought-about. Hampshire School (Barnhart’s alma mater), in western Massachusetts, provided him a scholarship; after graduating, he acquired a job, with Barnhart’s assist, with the Homosexual and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston.

Melendez quickly started his gender transition, and when Barnhart based New Alternate options, he returned to New York to work as a program coordinator alongside her. He additionally cared for Barnhart’s father when he was recognized with dementia. “She allowed me to get through homelessness and become stable and live a life that’s taking me to pretty great places,” he says gratefully. Melendez could also be one in all New Alternate options’ shiniest success tales, however he’s under no circumstances the one one. Barnhart provides that when her dad turned ailing, she additionally employed one other former consumer, along with Melendez, to work as a house attendant.

Other than hiring purchasers as New Alternate options workers, Barnhart additionally presents employment and job coaching assist. “The first step is working with them on their resume, and that’s often challenging because the clients don’t necessarily have much experience or education or stuff to put on the resume. For me, one of the important things is to talk to them about what it is they actually want to do.” She explains that anybody can get a short-term job, however envisioning long-term objectives is essential. “I like to find out what it is they would do if they didn’t have any limitations. I don’t want the clients to be stuck in low-end jobs.” New Alternate options has sturdy relationships with organizations that provide paid internship applications, akin to The Door (a youth companies group based in 1972), and he or she typically refers purchasers to these job postings. Lots of her purchasers begin within the nonprofit sector. “Nonprofits are more tolerant, but you don’t want somebody to be stuck in nonprofits forever,” says Barnhart. “There’s no way to advance in some of them.” Like Barnhart, Melendez believes that nonprofits that rent former purchasers characterize an important answer to queer unemployment, a minimum of for entry-level jobs. He cites different New York organizations—Avenue Works, Protected House—that rent former purchasers. As a method of sharing job alternatives with purchasers, Barnhart typically posts in a personal Fb group for New Alternate options purchasers—the group presently has greater than 800 members.

Ideally, Barnhart wish to rent much more purchasers in workers roles. Wanting ahead, she would like to see them in peer outreach positions, recruiting and figuring out future purchasers—however extra funding could be wanted earlier than these positions might be created.

For Melendez and others, New Alternate options offers a spot led by queer individuals, like Barnhart, for queer individuals like themselves. Students akin to Krause imagine that, for queer workers, serving to purchasers at New Alternate options whereas with the ability to say, “Hey, we’ve been there,” and creating belief via shared experiences is of nice worth. Melendez agrees. “That lived experience of being a queer youth on the streets of New York City allows you to know what the needs are of those that you’re serving,” he says. “It allows folks to give an even more quality form of service to the young people.”

At the moment, Barnhart can make use of roughly a dozen queer youth, however the want continues to stay dire. For some purchasers, their psychological sickness is so extreme that they’re unable to hitch the workforce, so securing incapacity advantages turns into a precedence. As Barnhart explains, whereas job coaching applications exist for LGBTQ+ youth, akin to NYC Unity Works, most cater to these underneath 24. “That 24 to 30 period is a real gap,” she says. “People don’t think of those ages as youth. Even if they’re working full time, at a minimum wage you can’t get a place to live at high New York rents.” And in contrast to some initiatives throughout town and nation that sort out queer youth unemployment, New Alternate options receives no authorities funding—Barnhart discovered herself exhausted with “the amount of manpower it takes just to execute a contract with them,” and finally felt the funding was not definitely worth the administrative effort.

In the meantime, Melendez can’t preserve quiet about his admiration for Barnhart. “I’ve seen her spend 24 hours sitting in a bail office to try to get somebody out,” he says. “This is a person who’s fully dedicated to making the world a better place.”  ❖

Jordan Pike is a tradition author primarily based in New York. Her work has appeared in Hey Alma, Xtra, and The Uptowner.



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