AT THE DROP-IN CENTER Lucie’s Place on Spring Street in Little Rock, the doors open at 9 a.m., and the doors close at 5 p.m. Beyond that, the days vary wildly, as founder Penelope Poppers says. Speaking from her cell phone on a Tuesday afternoon in late October, she explains her day has been devoted to designing holiday cards with a volunteer. In part. Also on her mind: the new home that will provide eight beds for homeless LGBT youth, and everything they need to do to prepare for the winter months, when they see a sharp rise in the number of youth seeking their help. (This year, they’re on track to help a little over 70.) For the past five years, she’s been the face of the organization, driving them to the DMV, helping them fill out job applications, providing them a support system when everything they’ve relied upon has fallen away. But she’s quick to point out there are other people at Lucie’s Place, too. They all provide a home.
On what success looks like: When I first started Lucie’s Place in 2012, I sort of had this idea that, Oh, yeah, we’re going to know we’re successful in the work we’re doing because we would see X, Y and Z. But what we’ve realized over the past five or six years is that success looks very different for each person. For someone, success might be going back to college, but for another person, success might be getting their driver’s license.
On the radical act of acceptance and normalcy: Sitting down and playing Scrabble or Monopoly with someone is just as valid as sitting down and chatting with them about some traumatic experience that happened. Because what we’re doing here is developing relationships with people society has pretty much entirely forgotten about. So, what seems like a simple act of playing Scrabble or Monopoly is really this sort of this radical thing. Because we’re just sitting, hanging out with them.
On allowing kids to be themselves: For some people, they just want to come and hang out because they can be who they want to be here, and we don’t judge them and we don’t tell them they’re going to go to hell, or we don’t do the million other horrible other things that people do to them out in the regular world. This is the one place they can come and just be themselves. So, whatever that looks like for them, we believe that’s valid. And we support that.
On starting the conversation: I don’t pat myself on the back very much, but one of the things that I am willing to really say that I did a good job at is really forcing this community to have a conversation around homelessness: how homelessness disproportionately affects LGBT people—specifically, young people. Five years ago, that was not happening anywhere in the state. Before Lucie’s Place, that population existed, but no one knew about it, no one talked about it, but I just came in and I sort of forced every person to have that conversation.
On the need for Lucie’s Place: I think this is the time for the organization to be an organization, and not just be a project of Penelope—which is what it was for the first couple years. And that’s what we’re here for: to offer whatever support we need to offer, so that our friends and members can one day not need Lucie’s Place—one day, not need any other organization. That’s our goal. —As told to Jordan P. Hickey
On the Lucie’s Place Christmas list: 31-day bus passes, $30 AT&T Go Phone cards and items from their Amazon wish list. Visit luciesplace.org for more info.