Lake Worth in the running for foster care facility for homeless LGBT community

Updated Nov 24, 2017
Jeff DeMario (left), CEO of Vita Nova, a nonprofit that works with older foster care youth between 18- and 22-years of age, with Jamyra, Deliliah, and Vanity. (Contributed)

Robert Lewis calls himself Vanity, like the famous pop culture magazine.

“I don’t like my real name,” Vanity, 20, said.

When Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce, revealed himself on the cover of Vanity Fair in July 2015, the idea struck.

“I’ve been wanting to change my name, but didn’t know what I was going to change it to,” Vanity said. “When I saw the cover, I just ended up with that.”

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Vanity, who is gay, plans to be moving soon.

Times have been hard for him since he was a kid. He’s been part of the Florida Department of Children & Families since he was 9. He was homeless for two years.

“I’m a strong person and it takes a lot to break me,” he said. “I was more aggravated there wasn’t anything I could do to find a job.”

Then Vanity hooked up with Vita Nova, a non-profit that started 10 years ago and offers programs and services for 18-to-25-year-olds who have aged out of foster care in Palm Beach County.

The group recently received a five-year grant from the Family and Youth Services Bureau and Runaway and Homeless Youth for more than $194,000 to open a facility for older homeless people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender between 18 and 22.

When the site opens in January, that’s where Vanity plans to live.

“Vita Nova is really family oriented,” he said. “When I was homeless, they were always there and helped me find a positive attitude.”

Vita Nova has been operating an apartment complex in West Palm Beach since 2005 where residents receive help and guidance, but Jeff DeMario, the group’s chief executive officer, said the need is bigger.

“When we opened, we were seeing kids of all different types, so we realized this homeless issue effected a bigger range of younger people,” DeMario said.

More than 40 percent of youth claiming homelessness because of gender identity or expression. Vita Nova realized there was really no place in the county for any young LGBT person to go for help.

“This population does well when they are co-existing with each other,” DeMario said. “They feel supported rather than having them join a program that are open to LGBT, but may not be specific for them.”

Lake Worth is one of the main areas where Vita Nova would like to place the site, DeMario said.

“We want an area that will embrace the LGBT community,” he said. “Compass Community Center is there and we will work with them on this project. It seems very natural to kind of head south from West Palm Beach.”

DeMario said Vita Nova will be looking for a rental space on Dixie Highway and Lake Avenue.

“There are so many places out there for rent,” he said. “To put up a new building wouldn’t be wise at this point. We’ll work with a landlord who is willing to work with us.”

Housing will be temporary, but DeMario said he’s still working on the logistics.

Vanity can’t wait.

“My life has been a challenge,” he said. “But I’m in a race for success and I’m determined to keep my positive attitude.”