You never know when or how inspiration will come.
For Kevin Lotz, a Ferguson, Missouri, native and Missouri State University alumnus, it was a New York Times article that put him on the path to founding a shelter for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth and young adults in New York City.
“The piece came out during Pride Month and it talked about how for homeless LGBTQ youth, it’s not a month of pride or parades, it’s a month of stress and trying to survive after being rejected by their families,” Lotz said. “I had never worked in the LGBTQ community before so this was new for me.”
After attending a community forum about the needs of homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City, Lotz and members of his local church, Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, were inspired to action. They agreed that while they didn’t have money to give, there was something they could do: open a shelter within their building. And in December 2005, they did.
“It was very transformative for the church community, volunteers, for all of us,” Lotz said. “We immediately expanded our shelter pilot to three weeks.”
For the next six months, Lotz conducted a feasibility study on capacity, resources and the risk of trying to open a long-term shelter. He then presented the research to his church, and the congregation voted unanimously to open the shelter. Lotz, along with two close friends, Heidi Neumark and Lydie Raschka, opened Trinity Place Shelter in June 2006.
“Since opening, we estimate we’ve served more than 500 youth and young adults,” Lotz said. “Residents can stay for up to a year and half.”
Many of the residents of Trinity Place Shelter found their way to New York from the Deep South and Midwest after being rejected by their families and kicked out of their homes for being gay.
“We’ve had several residents from Springfield, Missouri, and from nearly all 50 states and at least 12 other countries,” Lotz said.
Continued learning and growth
Lotz earned his bachelor’s of social work from Missouri State University in 2002, master’s of social work from Washington University in 2003 and is currently a PhD candidate at the New York University Silver School of Social Work.
“The social work landscape in New York is very robust,” Lotz said. “The needs in New York are intense – from poverty to homelessness to reproductive rights to immigration – and that can get overwhelming.”
During his social work studies at Missouri State University and through today, Lotz remains grateful for having been profoundly, positively influenced by faculty members Mary Ann Jennings and Tressa Moyle.
Sharing experiences with Citizen Bears
“The public affairs mission is one of the things that attracted me to Missouri State University to study social work,” Lotz said. “It was nice to be in a community of learners where public affairs and service was a broader emphasis.”
The theme of the 2016 conference is Building Healthy Communities: Mind, Body and Spirit. Lotz explained that those three realms of a person’s life are far more integrated than people might expect.
“For instance, the residents of Trinity Place Shelter are experiencing trauma, which incorporates all three,” Lotz said. “A lot of residents are kicked out of their homes for religious reasons, which is spiritual, and it’s very taxing to be constantly physically vulnerable and struggling to access food, washrooms and showers while being treated aggressively or violently by others, which is physical. Then mentally, it’s hard for them to focus on anything else when they’re homeless because shelter is such a fundamental need.”
When asked what he would tell fellow alumni about public affairs, Lotz said he would encourage people to think critically about social issues, especially those that aren’t as prominent.
“Regardless of where a person is living, there are always social services needed,” Lotz said. “A little goes a long way; from cooking a meal, to donating blankets to tutoring, all of those things are transformative to shelter residents and help make the shelter less of a shelter and more of a home.”
Lotz believes that Springfield residents have a unique opportunity to aid people in their community.
“College students and alumni living in Springfield have a premier opportunity to help address problematic, increasing levels of homelessness and income inequality in Springfield,” Lotz said. “There are very few services in Springfield for those who experience homelessness and some longstanding service providers have recently closed. Frankly, what I hope for the most, is that concerned citizens and professionals join together very soon to establish new shelters and homeless services in Springfield.”