Vol­un­teer finds his place help­ing LGBT home­less in Lit­tle Rock

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PROFILES - SEAN CLANCY

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

we need?”

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.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.

James Evans-Ham­mond vol­un­teers for Lu­cie’s Place, which pro­vides aid for home­less les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple ages 18 to 25.

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