If you go downtown, it’s hard to miss -- Miami’s huge homelessness crisis.
But what may not be so obvious is the homeless crisis among LGBTQ youth.
Teenagers are being kicked out of their homes and tossed to the street because of their sexual orientation or identity.
According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, between 20-40 percent are LGBTQ. And LGBTQ youth are not only at risk on the streets but in the shelter system as well.
But one activist in Miami is trying to help those without a home. Adrian Madriz is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing, or SMASH.
“I got involved in LGBTQ homelessness because a time in my life I actually was forced to leave my house because I was gay and my family didn’t approve of it," Madriz said.
Madriz decided to leave because of the challenging environment at his home and of his church that had anti-gay beliefs.
“It’s always been a painful experience that I actually don't like talking about, but I always keep it in mind whenever we're talking about what the importance of our work is and why we have to be inclusive as possible in the housing we create," he said.
Since then, his family has stopped attending that church and he says he now has a very positive and affirming relationship with his family, especially his parents. But when Madriz has to talk about his time as a youth, he does. Especially when it involves his mission to help LGBTQ youth who experience the emotional pain and suffering that he did.
“I’m very proud of who I am," Madriz said. "Very proud to be a child of immigrants, proud to be gay, married to my husband of five years and we live here in Overtown.”
SMASH was created several years ago. Its mission is the creation of a community trust that addresses the needs of inner-city Miami affected by slumlords, rising rents, and lack of community control.
“Community controlled LGBTQ transitional housing and slum housing have never been done before especially by people of color, poor or queer," Madriz said.
Since starting SMASH — and in large part because of crowdfunding — Adrian has seen his vision slowly grow into reality. The organization purchased property near Liberty City. Madriz wants to use it as a community land trust, or CLT, for LGBTQ youth and other minorities. A CLT is a nonprofit organization that treats land as a public good. The buildings are owned and used by businesses and people.
“It took a lot of time, effort, blood, sweat and tears. And never, did we ever think we would get to this point that we’d have property financed," Madriz said.
But now, Madriz said, the process is stalled because of bureaucratic red tape. But he's determined to see the project through. It’s an expedited housing project pilot program and includes a three-unit building with affordable and LGBTQ transitional housing programs mixed with market-rate rentals.
“I want everybody to know that you don't have to go around gentrifying people out of neighborhoods to find a place or live closer to downtown," Madriz said. "You can work with people different from you and find a way to develop neighborhood equitably."
In December 2018, SMASH raised $325,105 in what was the highest-earning crowdfunding project on that site.
According to the latest figures for the state of Florida, on any given night, 1,453 are homeless.