KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — More and more homeless people in Knox County are under the age of 18.
Those homeless youth in the LGBTQ+ community can have a harder time finding the resources they need to live on their own.
One of those people is Layla Rich.
"For a short time, I was living in a ditch. I barely got sleep there," she said.
The transgender woman, 20, did not have a place to call home until she met Sean Bryant.
"I have a 30-year history in social work," Bryant said. "I'm a member of the LGBTQ community and so it's really important to me to support that."
He is the founder of Bryant's Bridge, a new nonprofit in Knoxville working to get homeless LGBTQ+ youth off the streets.
"When kids sometimes come out to their families, their families are not able to cope and accept them," Bryant said. "And oftentimes they're abandoned or they're kind of forced out on their own."
When that happens, many don't have a place to go and can fall victim to addiction and lose any past support.
"We aim to fill that gap with support and supportive services so that they can just transition into adulthood successfully without falling into those traps," Bryant said.
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Bryant said to him, that starts with housing first.
"We took our first resident three days before Christmas," he said.
Donations purchased them a home in Knoxville that's now home to seven people ages 18 to 22, five of whom aged out of the foster care system.
"Six of seven of them are transgender," Bryant said. "Four are white, three are Black or mixed race."
Many of them have been institutionalized or neglected for years.
"There're a lot of ways they're not ready to be adults," Bryant said. "They don't have the skills like to clean, and some of them can cook, some of them cannot. They don't have that history."
Bryant's Bridge connects them with health insurance and mental health and job training services.
These tenants go to the Pride Center for life skills classes and are part of the Youth Action Board at the CAC.
"The process of getting them back into that system in a way that's functional for them, that allows them to have some money to go back to school, it takes time," Bryant said.
It takes time that he believes is best spent in a house where they can feel safe.
"I am proud of their dedication to each other and the support that they give each other," Bryant said.
Layla is now back on hormone therapy and is more comfortable opening up to people.
"I'm now progressing towards [collecting] disability," she said. "I can now eat a perfectly healthy diet."
Those aren't possible when you're living in a ditch.
While only seven people live in the home right now, it's at full capacity and Bryant said there's a waiting list.
Donors have pre-paid all the bills for the first year of this house, and once the tenants get on their feet, they'll start paying a low rent fee.
This is longer-term housing, meaning tenants can stay here for one to five years, meaning that the waitlist will just keep growing without additional housing.
Bryant hopes more funding and community support will open more space to welcome more homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
If you're interested in learning more or helping Bryant's Bridge mission, visit their website.