As the winter settles in, many unhoused individuals are stuck in the cold without a place to stay. LAUNCH PAD is a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community in Nashville. Their shelters provide a warm place to sleep, food, and access to vital services. LAUNCH PAD is a temporary shelter that connects young people with the resources they need to get out of homelessness and find stability.
Can you explain the need for street-free sleeping facilities for LGBTQ+ communities?
Since 2014, LAUNCH PAD been providing shelter in the cold winter months to young people. We’ve housed, at a minimum, 1,200 guests over 5,000 nights since we started. LGBTQ+ young adults are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their straight counterparts. In the city of Nashville, we’re in the heart of the bible belt. Many shelters are Evangelical or require attendance at a worship service to be able to stay there. We believe that having a place to eat, sleep, and shower should be a right afforded to everyone. The young people in our shelters are 18-24 years old and either identify as LGBTQ+ or are an ally.
What services do you provide in your shelters?
We are literally a place to launch you back into stability. Our shelters have bag storage, which is not common in all shelters. Many people carry everything they own on their back, and they can have a better night’s rest knowing that their belongings are behind a lock and key. They can take a warm shower, have a hot meal, and be at peace completely. There’s access to basic hygiene products, undergarments, and first aid as well. They can take time to rest, or do something fun like play a board game or play the piano. We also connect our young people with services that they need and show them access points to get back on their feet. For example, if someone applies for a housing service but can’t afford their phone bill, the city can contact LAUNCH PAD to tell someone about their application status. We’ll show people how to get a bus pass, or can connect them with a case management service. If we can pull someone out of homelessness before they get accustomed to it, they are less likely to return to it.
How did the pandemic affect your services?
Before the pandemic, our average length of stay was 12 nights because there were other options available. COVID took a shake to the rehousing situation, now that number is a lot higher. When the pandemic first hit, we knew we couldn’t keep a bunch of people sleeping in a room together, so we moved to hotels. That was tricky because it was hard for people to leave a hotel room where they have their own space. We then moved into an apartment model, which was great. It was a small community where people could be safe but still have a sense of socialization. Unhoused young people rely on each other for sharing resources, and it’s important that they are able to connect. We just reopened our shelters for the first time since the pandemic, and it’s been going great so far.
How did you get involved with LAUNCH PAD and what has been your favorite part of working there?
Four years ago in December, I was sent to a ministry innovation workshop with my church. I was asked to think of a system that needed to be repaired, and I immediately thought of our young people who have to travel across the city to get access to health clinics, mental health clinics, a place to sleep, a place to get a driver’s license, and so many other necessary services. I dreamt of a place where all of those things could happen in tandem, and that’s when I found LAUNCH PAD. Six months later, I was on the board and now I’m Executive Director. It’s amazing to see the excitement on someone’s face when I tell them about LAUNCH PAD. Hearing the laughter and seeing the happiness of our young people when they arrive at the shelter is an amazing feeling. In these last couple weeks that our shelter has been reopened, strangers have shown up, shared a meal, and left the next morning with new peer support.