SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—When Diversity Center Santa Cruz County established its LGBTQ+ Covid-19 Emergency Aid Fund last year, the organization expected to get some applicants, and then grow slowly by word-of-mouth.
They ended up handing out close to $16,000 in just the first six months to hundreds of applicants.
Ashlyn Adams and Deanna Zachary, who recently took over as Interim co-Executive Directors, said they put up a form online to request assistance of up to $500. Applicants only needed to provide demographic information, but can also answer questions about their current situations.
The answers, Zachary said, were telling. About 70 percent of applicants have been people of color, and 30 percent are transgender. About 60 percent are under the age of 25.
Many are unemployed or low income. Needs vary, but a good deal are homeless or close to it, and many cannot afford vital items such as HIV medications.
“The stories of these individuals… have been pretty heartbreaking,” Adams said. “If you think about it, it’s only $500. How much do they need 500 bucks right now? Are [they] going to fill out a form for it? Hundreds of people have said, ‘Absolutely. This is the difference between me and homelessness.’”
According to a recent study from the True Colors United organization, up to 40 percent of homeless youth in the United States are LGBTQ+. The fact that so many applicants of the Covid fund have been youth worries Adams, who for two years was the center’s Youth Coordinator.
Adams said many youth are kicked out of their homes because their family did not accept them being LGBTQ+. Some are too young to open bank accounts or apply for federal aid, giving them no option but to live on the streets.
“I’ve been homeless, without money,” Adams said, “and I don’t want that to happen to anyone, especially those who have already had such a difficult time.”
Added Zachary: “LGBTQ+ often live on the margins of society. I think people have this myth that it’s just wealthy white men without kids. But one out of five live in poverty.”
The idea for the fund came from one of it’s main donors, who asked to remain anonymous. The donor made another large donation this year to continue the fund. But donations are still needed and are being accepted through the center’s website at diversitycenter.org.
“This is a way of directly helping someone,” Zachary said. “The money is going to a person in your county, tomorrow. It’s immediate support.”
Zachary and Adams are taking the lead at the Diversity Center at a transitional time. They recently bought a new building and are looking to expand programming. Supporting South County and the greater Spanish-speaking community is crucial, they said, since those communities have been severely impacted by Covid-19.
In addition, Adams has established an online platform for people aged 12-18. The program offers everything from at-home workouts, tutoring, sex education, movie and gaming nights and more. The program has about 90 participants and keeps growing.
“What we’re trying to do is just provide a space where kids can talk to friends and meet people who won’t bully them,” Adams said. “Especially those who are stuck at home with unsupportive families.”
In South County, the Pajaro Valley Pride organization is once again offering an education scholarship to local LGBTQ+ students. This is the fourth year the small nonprofit has offered the scholarship, though last year they received no applicants.
Danielle Elizalde, Marketing Coordinator for PV Pride, said that due to the lack of applicants in 2020, they will be able to give at least two scholarships this year, between $500 and $1,500.
“The world is crazy right now, and people really need money for school,” Elizalde said. “Not everyone is able to work during this pandemic. We want to give money to deserving students who want an education.”
The scholarship is open to high school seniors attending a school in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, who are LGBTQ+ identifying or an ally involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy. Students must be on track to graduate with a 2.5 GPA or higher and enrolled full-time (12+ units) in higher education in Fall 2021. Applications and more information is available in English and Spanish at pajarovalleypride.org.
Elizalde said that PVP’s announcement of the scholarship has brought them back into the community after months of inactivity. The organization relied heavily on in-person events and meet-ups.
“Nothing beats that in-person communication,” she said. “Not having that has been a major roadblock for us.”
The organization has been holding virtual meetings, doing what they can to stay connected.
“Some of us are definitely struggling, with all the chaos of what’s going on,” Elizalde said. “So we lean on each other. It’s great to have that kind of support.”