New book illuminates LGBT youth homelessness

Star Tribune

By Sharyn Jackson OCTOBER 27, 2015

On one of Ryan Berg’s first days working in a New York City group home for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths, a resident brought up all of Berg’s insecurities with just one word: “tourist.”

Berg, an Iowa native who worked in theater, was acutely aware of his outsider status. Having recently changed careers, he was living and working in the group home as a case manager — with no experience.

He dove into New York City’s fractured social services system and worked to alleviate some of the extreme vulnerabilities among LGBT homeless youths, who make up 20 to 40 percent of the nation’s homeless youth population, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

In a new book about working in the trenches among youths who have been dealt the worst in life — poverty, abuse, racism, homophobia — Berg writes, “I saw this bald, white guy in a dilapidated house in Queens surrounded by kids of color and wondered, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” His fish-out-of-water experience, as well as the transformative and sometimes heart-wrenching relationships that grew between him and the youths he worked with, are the focus of “No House to Call My Home: Love, Family and Other Transgressions.”

Most of the events in the book took place a decade ago. Berg eventually left that job and went on to study creative writing. “But I really couldn’t shake the stories,” he said. “I needed to write these stories.”