When lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer (LGBTQ) youth in Central New York seek housing or shelter, they often face challenges that seem insurmountable.

Many are escaping abusive homes or exclusion from their local and religious communities. They might seek mental health care, fighting urges to harm themselves. They could even be fleeing sex trafficking, which is becoming devastatingly common, according to Marissa Rice, director of youth services at ACR Health.

“In the past year, we’ve had seven young people come to us HIV positive, becoming infected because of what they’ve had to do,” Rice said.

This is an urgent problem, with 40 percent of homeless youth reporting as LGBTQ, according to Rice.

“Like most cities our size, there aren’t any shelters that serve the specific needs of this population,” Rice said.

With a grant from the Community Foundation in 2014, ACR Health attended the Creating Change Conference to collaborate with national nonprofits dedicated to ending LGBTQ youth homelessness. With the help of The Rescue Mission, ACR Health is now taking steps toward creating the first local shelter specifically designed to meet the needs of young people facing this situation.

ACR Health offers sexual health and prevention services to individuals, community groups and organizations in nine New York counties. It also has three regional Q Centers, designed to be safe spaces that offer programming for LGBTQ youth and allies.

The Community Foundation’s grant covered the cost of conference attendance, youth leadership trainings, an advocacy skills training and an LGBT Youth Voices video. In addition, a previous grant led to the placement of a program coordinator, and a recent grant helped hire a licensed mental health clinical counselor.

Of the youth who participated in leadership trainings, 81 percent demonstrated increased knowledge of LGBTQ issues and were able to advocate and mobilize others to act.

“It’s amazing that there’s a local organization like the Community Foundation that says, ‘We’d like to hear from you and what you need for this population within our community,’” Rice said. “That collaborative spirit is what’s changing our local community for LGBTQ youth and adults.”