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Supporting homeless LGBTQ youth

San Francisco, CA
Dates May 30 - July 28
Program Focus

Working with homeless youth (a significant number of whom are LGBTQ+ identified) to help them meet their basic needs for housing, food, healthcare and employment.

Curricular Connections: While all students are welcome to apply, this program may be of particular interest to students studying the social or behavioral sciences, pre-health related fields, and those interested in learning about nonprofit careers. (See below for additional details about connecting this program to your academic work.)

Program Leaders
Service Themes
  • Children & Youth Services
  • Health & Human Services
  • Homelessness
  • No Foreign Language Requirement

DukeEngage-San Francisco Overview

During students’ two months in San Francisco, they will work in NGO/nonprofits focused on providing services (e.g., nutrition, temporary shelter, employment skills training, and health information) for homeless youth.

It is estimated that there are between 1.6 and 2.1 million homeless youth ages 14-24 in the United States. Homeless youth identify a variety of causes for their homelessness including family dysfunction related to substance abuse, pregnancy, and issues of sexual or gender Identity. Many have experienced parental neglect and/or abuse which triggered their running away or escaping to the streets. Other youth were expelled from their homes by family members who rejected them due to their gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation, or childbearing. California is a major destination for homeless youth for a variety of reasons. The large LGBTQ+ population in San Francisco is particularly compelling for homeless youth dealing with gender and sexual identity issues. We launched DukeEngage in San Francisco in 2015 due to its large population of homeless youth who are in need of support.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

At the conclusion of DukeEngage-San Francisco, we expect that students will better understand the following:

  1. The primary causes of homelessness among youth
  2. The emotional and physical consequences of homelessness for youth
  3. The particular needs (e.g. identity development, dealing with stigma) of LGBTQ+ youth at risk
  4. The work of nonprofit organizations addressing the issues of youth at risk (e.g. organizational processes and culture, motivations of staff)

Partnership Opportunities

Partner organizations and potential service projects include:

At the Crossroads: The mission of At the Crossroads is to reach out to homeless youth and young adults at their point of need, and work with them to build healthy and fulfilling lives. Their innovative model focuses on young people who do not access traditional services and are disconnected from any type of consistent support. They often work with young people who others have given up on, who would not get help otherwise. They remove common barriers to service by shaping their support services around the needs of each individual client. The organization accomplishes their mission through a combination of nighttime street outreach and one-on-one counseling, and collaboration with other service providers. They walk the streets of the Mission and Downtown San Francisco at nighttime, bringing help to their clients, rather than making the clients come to them. (Students are not involved in this street outreach.)They partner and advocate to make sure that there is an accessible, culturally competent continuum of care that will provide their clients with the opportunities to realize their dreams. (

It is important to note that none of our students will actually engage in night-time outreach activities. Rather than provide direct services to clients, Duke students will provide infrastructure support to the organization and its work. Service activities will primarily include working on the organization’s major fundraising event, a hike up Mount Tamalpais. Students may also assist with stocking the food bank and preparing care packages for the street outreach.

Larkin Street Youth Services: Larkin Street provides youth between the ages of 12 and 24 with the help they need to rebuild their lives. Each year, more than 4,000 youth walk through their doors seeking help. They provide a place where they can feel safe; rebuild their sense of self-respect, trust, and hope; educational, life, and employment skills. With 25 comprehensive youth service programs located throughout San Francisco in over 14 sites, Larkin Street Youth Services is an internationally recognized model successfully integrating housing, education, employment and health services to get homeless and at-risk young people off the streets. (

Service activities at Larkin Street may include leading programming efforts in arts; conducting intake interviews for the drop-in center; leading Outward Bound activities; helping youth access food, clothing, hygiene products, and other services; and serving as mentors and tutors for GED classes.

Students will be matched with a placement based on their interests and skills, and the needs of the organizations.

Program Requirements

Language: None

Coursework: None

Personal Qualities: We are most interested in students who have volunteer service experience and are willing to serve our community partners as they are needed.

Other: Some placement sites may require students to undergo drug testing and background checks.

Curricular Connections

Students who study the social sciences and/or are pre-health may be particularly interested in this program. In addition, any student who is interested in learning more about nonprofit organizations will find this program a good fit. The following are just a few of the relevant courses that students might explore before or after the program:

  • SOC 111: Contemporary Social Problems
  • SOC 250:  Medical Sociology
  • SOC 349: Sexuality and Society
  • SXL 235S/Psych235S Clinical Considerations with the LGBTQ Community
  • Independent research projects or policy memos
  • Abnormal psychology, etc.

Program Details

Description of the Community: San Francisco is a city of 805,000 people in northern California. It is a beautiful city with a rich, diverse history. The city is quite hilly, and is unexpectedly cool in the summer, with temperatures ranging from 60-80 during the day but dropping down into the 50s at night. The worksites are located in low-income areas of the city with persistent homelessness.

Housing and Meals: Housing is located on a large university campus in a safe neighborhood with ready access to restaurants and grocery stores. Students will stay in a dormitory, sharing rooms and sometimes bathrooms with other students. Laundry facilities will be available.

Students will be expected to buy groceries in order to prepare their own meals in the dormitory’s community kitchen and dining facility.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office,, to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: DukeEngage provides or arranges transportation to and from service placements and all scheduled program activities, relying on public transportation where feasible. In San Francisco, monthly bus passes will be provided and buses will be used for transportation to and from service placements.

Communication: We assume all students will have a personal cell phone for program-related and emergency communication. Wi-Fi access will be available.

Local Safety and Security; Cultural Norms, Mores and Practices: DukeEngage strongly advises all applicants to familiarize themselves with the challenges travelers commonly encounter at this program site in order to make an informed application decision. We recommend starting with the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.

Opportunities for Reflection: Students will be required to keep a weekly journal for reflection on the internship and city experiences. The site coordinator will lead reflection activities at the weekly dinners. Toward the end of their service experience, students will be asked to think about structural changes in society that could either make their agency’s work with youth be more successful or eradicate the need for their agency altogether. What would need to change at a city, state, or national-level to reduce or eliminate youth homelessness? We will also encourage students to begin to think of ways that they can continue their involvement in the issue of youth in need. What can they do when they return to Duke in the fall?  Write an op-ed piece about homeless youth to bring attention to the issue? Become involved with CHANCE, ASPIRE, or Big Brother/Big Sister programs?

Other Opportunities: There will be weekly group meals and occasional evening activities may be required by individual organizations, but in general, students will work a regular 40-hour work week which will leave their evenings and part of their weekends free. Most weekends the group will engage in enrichment activities in the San Francisco area including a walking tour of the Castro district and visits to the Japanese Tea Garden and Chinatown. Some enrichment activities will be spent with local alumni. Students will generally have one weekend day free. Open water swimming will not be a sponsored activity in any DukeEngage program.

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