Volunteer finds his place helping LGBT homeless in Little Rock
When James Evans-Hammond moved to Little Rock about a year ago, he hadn’t even gotten unpacked before he was volunteering at Lucie’s Place.
“He moved from Memphis and came here first and wanted to know how he could help,” says Penelope Poppers, the founder and executive director of Lucie’s Place, which helps young adult lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are homeless. “He appeared one day and became one of our superstar volunteers.”
It was a natural step for Evans-Hammond, who grew up in Harrisburg. He had been volunteering with the homeless advocacy group Hospitality Hub in Memphis and wanted to continue that work after he and husband Kent, also an Arkansas native, moved to Little Rock. To that end, he scoped out Poppers and the community served by Lucie’s Place.
“[It] is a great organization that helps the people that nobody else wants to, not even their families,” the 45-year-old Evans-Hammond says.
The LGBT community is particularly susceptible to homelessness, according to figures from a 2010 study “Gay and Transgender Youth Homelessness by the Numbers.” While 5 percent to 10 percent of the general young adult population identify as LGBT, 20 percent to 40 percent of homeless young adults are LGBT.
Often, they’ve been kicked out of their homes, and there can be problems with traditional homeless outreach agencies.
“They need to be somewhere that’s affirming, and they need to be around folk that are going to respect their gender identity and their sexual orientation,” Poppers says from her desk on the eighth floor of the downtown Little Rock office of Lucie’s Place. “They need to be somewhere where they’re not being told they are going to hell for being LGBT.”
Named for Popper’s friend Lucille Marie Hamilton of Little Rock, who came out as transgender early in her life and who died at age 20, Lucie’s Place helps
homeless young adults with bus passes, cell phone minutes, counseling, job applications, toiletries and other services.
It also operates a four-bedroom home in Little Rock where clients may live for up to a year.
“We provide the utilities, transportation, food, all the things they need to live and thrive in that house,” Poppers says. “Their goal is to find employment and save 50 percent or more of their paychecks into a savings account so they can move to their own apartment.”
A fundraising cabaret — with dancing, poetry, a children’s ensemble, community choir and other entertainment — is scheduled for July 17 at Studio Theater in downtown Little Rock.
When asked what he does as a volunteer, Evans-Hammond, who is studying for a master’s degree in social work through Arizona State University, says, “I come in and am willing to do anything Penelope needs to assist her to keep things going.”
That can mean taking someone to a thrift store because all they have are the clothes they are wearing, listening to their stories without judgment, or affirming their sexual identity when others have turned their backs.
“He does any and everything,” program coordinator Ash Hunter says about Evans-Hammond, “from keeping our office tidy to helping our residents get to an appointment. He just comes in and asks what do
Hunter and Evans-Hammond both started at Lucie’s about the same time and became fast friends.
“The first day he came here, we just knew he was going to be great,” she says. “He’s so accepting and welcoming of all people. That energy he gave showed us that he’s someone great to have around. He’s become one of my best friends. He’s someone I can trust and count on.”
Lucie’s is not the only outlet from which Evans-Hammond helps Little Rock’s homeless. He is an intern at St. Francis House, which is part of the Episcopal Diocese and, among other services, works with homeless veterans.
“I can’t tell you 100 percent what drew me to [homeless causes],” he says. The seeds were perhaps sown when he worked at a behavioral health hospital in Memphis. Seeing patients come in and get sent right back out onto the streets with only a few days’ worth of medicine had an impact.
“That was frustrating,” he admits. “I always thought psychology was where I was going to stay. My undergraduate degree is in psychology and counseling. But I realized social work would be a better fit because you’re connecting people with services while counseling them.”
James Evans-Hammond volunteers for Lucie’s Place, which provides aid for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people ages 18 to 25.