By Arly Nguyen
My staff and I at Trinity Place Shelter use a range of social work methods and evidence-based interventions, which include harm reduction methods, interpersonal therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, solutions-focused therapy, and motivational interviewing. Our work continues to be heavily influenced by positive youth development and harm reduction philosophies. Each of these methods and interventions are easy to self-explore online.” – Kevin Lotz, LCSW
About Kevin Lotz, LCSW: Kevin Lotz, LCSW, CASAC, ACSW, is originally from North St. Louis (Ferguson, MO) and has lived in New York City (Spanish Harlem) for the past 13 years. He earned his Bachelor of Social Work from Missouri State University in 2002 and his Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis in 2003. In 2006, Kevin co-founded Trinity Place Shelter, a transitional, harm-reduction focused shelter for low-income, homeless LGBT youth and young adults on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He serves as the full-time director of Trinity Place Shelter, which has served more than 500 young people seeking refuge from nearly all 50 U.S. states and at least a dozen other countries.
Kevin is also currently a fifth-year, full-time Ph.D. Candidate at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. He is preparing for a career in social work teaching and research. His research interests include substance abuse, incarceration, and homelessness. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Could you please explain what some of your key research projects have been thus far at Trinity Place Shelter?
[Kevin Lotz, LCSW] Some of the key research projects include our efforts to bring attention and focus to the current epidemic of homelessness among LGBT youth and young adults. For example, up to 40 percent of homeless youth in NYC are LGBT. And transgender youth are 250 percent more likely to become homeless than their cisgender counterparts. A typical shelter is unsafe in general, and is not equipped to meet the needs of LGB youth and especially not equipped for the unique needs of transgender youth. Consequently, we have engaged in research and program evaluation to assess the outcomes of our own efforts. We have also engaged in additional research looking at the health behavior of homeless LGBT youth in Manhattan. At present, our research team remains small, yet we are seeking ways to expand our team.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What are the steps involved in developing effective community programs for the LGBT population? How do you and your colleagues combine your knowledge of the social, political, economic, and health disparities LGBT individuals face in order to develop relevant and effective programs serving this community?
[Kevin Lotz, LCSW] There are many steps involved in developing effective community programs for the LGBT population. First, a classic, social work community-based needs assessment must be conducted. Frankly, I cannot tell you how many times social workers and other professionals contact me proposing a program or idea that already exists. And not just “already exists” in a small way but often it “already exists” in a very large, common way.
Frustratingly, it seems most individuals have a specific personal interest, hobby or pet project — such as drama, theater, yoga, music, nutrition, photography, film, etc. — and then seek out environments where they can then apply such personal interests or hobbies to try to create “new” programming. Unfortunately, this only does further injustice to those who are most marginalized, namely low-income, homeless LGBT ethnic minority youth and young adults of color, as their other more pressing and basic needs go unmet. For example, at no point thus far, having worked with thousands of homeless LGBT youth, has any one youth ever reported any statement resembling the following, “if I only had access to yoga (or drama, theater, music, photography, etc.) I wouldn’t now be homeless.”
Meanwhile, the far “less sexy” yet most urgent, basic needs of such populations go unaddressed. Examples of such urgent basic needs include housing, shelter, vocational and employment assistance, GED test-preparation, financial skill building, dental care, substance abuse, legal assistance, self-defense training, and immigration issues. Anecdotally, over the past 10 years, I have probably received hundreds of email inquiries from individuals around the globe that have wanted to make some sort of “short film or video” about homeless LGBT youth. However the impact or role of such projects on actually ending LGBT youth/young adult homelessness remains wholly unknown. And yet, I have never received a single email in the past 10 years of anyone explicitly wanting to help meet the above-mentioned urgent, basic needs such as GED test-preparation or dental care. Perhaps such needs aren’t “sexy.” And yes, most of the needs are unquestionably complex and some such as providing housing and shelter are grueling, gritty, and generally thankless work. However these remain some of the most pressing needs of our clients. In short, what should guide the development of effective programs for the LGBT population is not the individual social worker’s personal interests or hobbies but rather the needs of the community.
When I co-founded Trinity Place Shelter in 2006, even as a seasoned NYC social worker, I still spent over six months conducting a comprehensive community-based needs assessment and conducting detailed feasibility studies before we launched our new program. Three things quickly became obvious:
1. We were (and continue to be) experiencing an epidemic and crisis of homelessness among LGBT youth and young adults. It is estimated there are less than 200 shelter beds in NYC for this population of more than 8,000 people.
2. Homeless LGBT youth and young adults ages 18-24 were especially under-served and marginalized, particularly those who “age-out” of the foster care system at age 21.
3. Among the homeless shelter services available, transitional shelters where residents have the opportunity to stay for a long period of time were (and remain) among the most desperately needed shelter services.
Trinity Place Shelter is designed to directly respond to these factors. We are a long-term transitional shelter serving homeless LGBT youth and young adults between the ages of 18-24 offering them the opportunity to stay at Trinity Place Shelter up to 18 months.
In response to the needs of our clients, we have also launched a large range of supplemental community-based collaborations to expand our services and capacities to meet specific, urgent needs. This includes health and medical services (Columbia Presbyterian Hospital/Young Men’s Clinic); legal services (New York Legal Assistance Group); financial services (TD Bank); and dental services (NYU Dental School).
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Currently, there is limited research focusing on LGBT families. For example, their dynamics, the social support they receive, and the issues they face. How can social workers advocate for more research in this area, and work for equal access for LGBT families to health insurance and care, employment, and adoption and visitation of a child?
[Kevin Lotz, LCSW] The problem of limited research focusing on LGBT families is real. Social workers could work to reverse these dynamics in a number of ways. First, by directly providing high-quality, comprehensive social work and case management services to such families. Second, I have long-noticed that many social workers have an “aversion” to research. Yet it is one of the most powerful and transformative tools that social workers have access to. Many colleges and universities offer part-time research assistant employment opportunities. I encourage social workers to seek out these opportunities. From there, opportunities to advance or at least influence research agendas may be available. Third, unlike many other professions, social work is exceptionally welcoming and encouraging of new or “novice” research. For example, I recently attended the national meeting of the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) and was impressed that alongside some of the most experienced and prominent social work researchers in the world, there were also BSW and MSW students presenting their research.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What clinical social work methods and interventions have you found to be most effective in helping members of the LGBT community? Do you and your colleagues pull from evidence-based studies that have been conducted specifically regarding members of this community, the issues they face, and the best ways to support them? If so, could you elaborate on these studies and their core findings, and how you’ve applied them?
[Kevin Lotz, LCSW] My staff and I at Trinity Place Shelter use a range of social work methods and evidence-based interventions, which include harm reduction methods, interpersonal therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, solutions-focused therapy, and motivational interviewing. Our work continues to be heavily influenced by positive youth development and harm reduction philosophies. Each of these methods and interventions are easy to self-explore online.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For social work professionals and students who are interested in learning more about LGBT social work, do you have any recommendations for resources (online, print, or in person) that they can read themselves, or which they can refer to clients?
[Kevin Lotz, LCSW] Yes, many academic and professional journals focusing on LGBT social work abound which may yield great insights about LGBT social work. Unfortunately, I have found most of these resources are less accessible to social work students, interns, and practitioners. Alternatively, I have found the work of The Center for LGBTQ Studies to be particularly relevant and accessible to a wider audience. Also, local chapters of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) often have LGBT-focused committees or working groups. These are among the finest, most accessible, grassroots, free opportunities to network with and learn more about LGBT social work.
Thank you Mr. Kevin Lotz for your time and insights into LGBT social work.