Social Issues

Shelter offers hope for homeless, at-risk members of Mexico’s LGBT community

By Monica Rubalcava

Mexico City, Jan 4 (efe-epa).- Before discovering Casa Frida, Alex Navarro thought of shelters as uniformly hostile places.

But three months after his arrival at that Mexico City-based refuge for at-risk members of the LGBTIQ+ community, he is deeply grateful to that civil association that sprung up during the health emergency and has soldiered on despite facing threats of violence.

“You think of a shelter as an ugly place, that you’re going to sleep on the floor with a blanket, that they’re going to give you left-overs. And you get here, and they give you all kinds of attention, and it’s nice,” Navarro said in an interview with Efe.

Casa Frida opened its doors in May 2020 with the aim of helping people left homeless amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Using facilities provided by a partner civil association, Casa Frida had been making the most of its less-than-ideal location when some of its team members in August began receiving death and rape threats.

The association responded by filing a complaint with local prosecutors and relocating the operation. Its hope now is to remain at its new site for at least a year following a successful online fundraising effort.

“Casa Frida has helped more than 70 people in the LGBTIQ+ community so far, especially young people between 20 and 25,” Raul Caporal, the civil association’s co-director, said.

He explained that individuals in that community who seek to express their sexual identities openly are frequently forced to leave home at an early age.

The assistance that Casa Frida offers these people is provided through “three fundamental pillars,” Caporal said.

“One is home and security, providing them with basic services; the second is a psychosocial program and the links (it offers) to public health services; and the third is the life project (residents) carry out individually to gradually overcome all the barriers that have accumulated,” the co-director added.

The average stay lasts 90 days, and the success stories range from economic independence to rarer cases in which residents and their family members achieve reconciliation through a Casa Frida-led mediation process, Caporal said.

The shelter’s residents and volunteers organize workshops and activities that range from art and English classes to fashion makeovers.

“It hasn’t been easy. We’ve been dealing with this pandemic for a year and staying inside is difficult, and even more so being at red light (maximum risk on Mexico’s coronavirus stoplight system),” said Francisco Mendiola, Casa Frida’s home and housing coordinator.

Mendiola, who has seen the arrivals and departures of each and every one of the shelter’s residents, says the personal transformations he has witnessed have been impressive.

“Our message is clear: keep building safe spaces for sexual diversity. There’s a historical debt in terms of diversity, a real institutional neglect. No one has wanted to pay that debt, so it’s been left to civil society organizations to confront (the challenge), often times with zero resources,” Caporal said.

Amid this challenging reality, Casa Frida has relied on raising money through donations, activities and the sale of different items online.

Navarro, one of many people who have found a new beginning thanks to this civil association, said he arrived at the shelter after an “angel” gave him 50 pesos ($2.50) and Casa Frida’s telephone number.

By that time, he had already abandoned his violent home, been a kidnapping victim, suffered sexual abuse and even attempted suicide. He also knew what is was like to live on the street.

“I come from (the central state of) Guanajuato, from a family with a history of alcoholism, drug addiction, physical and psychological abuse. I was living with them (his parents) and I reached a point in which my father was grabbing and hitting me and broke my nose,” Alex said, adding that he finally stuffed some clothes in a suitcase and took off.

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