Established in 2010, The Zebra Coalition based in Orlando, Florida, was created to respond to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth, specifically around substance abuse and homelessness.
“The Zebra Coalition is a very unique program comprised of service groups, government agencies, social service providers, churches, corporations, middle and high schools, colleges and universities. Through the Zebra Coalition, each of these organizations is able to aid in providing essential services for LGBTQ+ youth at risk or in need,” said Heather Wilkie, Director at the Zebra Coalition. “The primary goal of the Zebra Coalition is to create and sustain culturally competent programs that directly support the LGBTQ+ youth community throughout central Florida. An ongoing objective is to provide youth education and faculty education to local schools pertaining to LGBTQ+ issues and bullying prevention and intervention.”
In addition to housing and food services, residents are supported by a team of professionals including counselors and housing stability case managers. Counselors provide individual and group services designed to address mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders. The Youth Drop-In Center is located in central downtown Orlando and serves approximately 400 youth each year. “We have drop-in hours Monday through Friday, where youth can drop in for services such as shower and laundry facilities, food, clothing, counseling and case management. The overall goal of the Youth Drop-In Center is to provide a safe and healthy space for LGBTQ+ youth,” said Wilkie.
The coalition was initially founded by Aspire Health Partners, the largest behavioral health organization in central Florida. This connection allowed the coalition to have immediate connections to the mental health and substance abuse services.
Since opening the Drop-In Center in 2013, approximately 400 youth visit the Center per year and approximately 30 youth are housed annually. The coalition network has grown to 46 organizations, not including four active committees within the coalition that are led by coalition partners.
“Specific services designed for LGBTQ+ youth are critical in every community. Youth need to feel a sense of safety before they are able to work on the issues they may be facing, such as substance abuse,” said Wilkie. “We target our prevention areas in three ways: one, create a safe space for LGBTQ youth; two, educate the community on LGBTQ+ cultural competency; and three, offer bullying prevention curriculum to the community and schools. We have seen great success in our community through these efforts.”
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