HOUSTON – Understanding and expressing one’s sexual orientation and gender identity are important aspects of who we are as people. This “sense of being” is unique and normal, and it’s usually discovered and recognized during our youth -- a time that can be turbulent for some, especially those within the LGBTQ community.
Each month, KPRC2 showcases work that brings Houston together and makes the city stronger.
This month, for PRIDE month, our Zach Lashway is going inside Tony’s Place, an organization that uplifts those within the LGBTQ community and makes us a Stronger Houston.
Tony’s Place was founded and opened in Montrose in 2017. Over the years, it took on different challenges and schedules, but it is currently open on weekends, and at the moment, it is transitioning into its forever home.
“Tony Carroll, the founder, was a therapist and he did huge and amazing work in Houston prior to him passing away.
He was going, ‘Oh, my goodness! There is a disproportionate amount of youth who are experiencing homelessness, who are unstably housed and who are also in the LGBTQ population. And then there are the Black and Brown teens who culturally and systemically don’t get help in that way.’ So, it was a mountain of barriers to receiving those services,” said MaDonna Land, Tony’s Place program director. “We are a drop-in center. Individuals are able to come in. We serve the LGBTQ population that is experiencing homelessness or are unstably housed, we have the services that meet their needs.”
Everything from food, laundry, showers, access to medical care, education and employment opportunities.
“We need to get these individuals where they can help themselves, survive and thrive,” said Land. “We are not just helping them because they are homeless or unstably housed, we are not just helping them because they are LGBTQ population, we are helping them because they need help. And when an individual needs help, they should receive it and get it, no matter what.”
Phoenix King is a client of Tony’s Place.
“I am someone who struggled with not being allowed,” said King, a 25-year-old who identifies as a queer gay man. “It’s been difficult. It is something that means I am different and I do not have to be ashamed of it.”
King said as broken as he has felt, over time, he gained perseverance and confidence.
“Tony’s Place was always there for me as sort of a lighthouse and beacon for finding myself and someone being there to receive me as I was. They helped me find shelter and I am now in the process of getting my own apartment through the help of Tony’s Place,” said King.
For Joslyn Kovaly, Tony’s Place was a safe haven, a refuge.
“I originally became homeless in Houston after leaving Saint Joseph’s,” said Kovaly.
Kovaly turned to Tony’s Place the year the organization opened.
“I was just coming out as trans and I was just understanding my identity and they were very affirming,” she said.
Kovaly added that if it were not for Tony’s Place, she would not be where she is today, studying journalism at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.
“They felt like a home away from home,” she said. “I felt accepted for who I am.”
As Tony’s Place moves into its new space, Land said its clients will have a say in what the finished facility looks like and how it will serve the community.
“If we’re wanting to create systems and resources for a community and their need, they have to be part of that conversation.”
Tony’s Place is expected to open its new location at Hawthorne and Mulberry Streets in Montrose in the coming weeks.