The Rev. Stacey Fox
A small Fort Worth church is working to house homeless LGBT youth
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Fellowship of Love Outreach purchased a building in the Northside neighborhood of Fort Worth in 2017 to create a place where homeless LGBT youth can “live and be loved.”
FOLO may be a small church with about 100 members, according to The Rev. Stacey Fox, but it is a small church with big plans.
Some of the members of the church are LGBT. Some members came through the foster system or were adopted. Others have fostered themselves.
Working with the homeless has been part of the church’s mission since its founding in 1987, according to Karen Seimears, director of education for the church. So establishing HOME — church members are careful to avoid calling it a shelter — seemed the obvious thing to do. But no one told them how much work it would be. Still, they’re taking things one step at a time as they apply for permits and licenses needed to operate a facility serving homeless teens.
So far they provide food and clothing, and “Currently, we have GED classes and a volunteer therapist,” Seimears said.
The therapist is Tanya Seimears, Karen’s wife.
In its brochure, the church explains its goal: “We are striving to provide a home for the homeless, lend a helping hand where we can and love for those who have felt unloved.”
And they even quote from the Bible to explain their mission: “Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.”
To show how serious they were about establishing a home, this small congregation bought an 18,000-square-foot building. The church meets downstairs, and upstairs is HOME. Volunteers are building the space into 10 bedrooms and several offices. Others donated furniture.
“The bedrooms don’t look like juvie,” Karen Seimears said. “We have colorful comforters, real towels.”
Tanya Seimears will be the executive director. As a clinical social worker, she’ll provide mental health and chemical dependency counseling. Residents will register in local schools or receive on-site training leading to equivalency diplomas. And everyone will receive emotional support.
The need is huge. The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates there area 1.7 million homeless youth across the country.
Fort Worth ISD has identified 1,100 homeless students in its schools, but that doesn’t include Fort Worth youth who have dropped out of school as they struggle to survive.
Estimates on how many of those homeless youth are LGBT vary widely, but at least 20 percent of them identify as LGBT, and in some areas as many as 60 percent may be LGBT.
While FOLO is gearing its outreach to LGBT youth, they won’t turn away any youth in need of their services. Pastor Fox chokes up as he talks about it.
“So many kids are thrown out because of a religious belief,” Fox said. “We want them to know God didn’t throw them away.”
He said the church decided to concentrate on LGBT youth, because often foster families won’t take in LGBT youth. And LGBT kids are less likely to go to shelters, because they’re victimized there. When they can, they’ll couch surf, but many do not have a permanent home.
Fox said he has seven children himself, and knowing there are minors living on the street just hurts him deeply.
“I’ve heard parents say, ‘I would rather you be dead than gay,’” he said. “I can’t imagine anything my kids would do that I would turn them out on the streets.”
Fox and both Tanya and Karen Seimears are realistic. They know they can’t help every child, but they hope to begin housing at least five or six. Eventually they’ll fill HOME’s 10 bedrooms.
“We will make them feel like they have a place to live,” Tanya Seimears said.
She understands that means more than just providing a bed. She envisions providing a home until the youth are ready to go off to college or connecting them to training so they can move into their own apartment.
And just as parents would normally help their own kids find a place they can afford, Tanya Seimears sees their job as training these young people with the life skills they need to live on their own and then continuing to provide some help with things like utility deposits or providing basic furniture for their first apartments.
But right now, FOLO is taking things one step at a time.
“It surprised me how much I didn’t know,” Tanya Seimears said. “Starting a facility has all those state and federal guidelines,” although she understands that all the regulations are in place to make sure no more harm comes to any of the youth they’ll be serving.
Fox said there are a lot of legalities and red tape, but they’re prepared for that, and they’re taking it slowly.
Every child, he said, will have a room, a closet, a school, food, shelter and clothing.
“And love,” Karen Seimears said several times.
She said some members of the LGBT community don’t like that this home is being put together by a church, and some mainline churches have expressed reservations about this being primarily for LGBT youth. But, “We’re going to be true to who we are,” she said. “We just want to be a voice of kindness.”
The church can be contacted on its website FOLOChurch.org. Donations earmarked for HOME can be made through the website.