A Young Woman Finds Shelter, Connection and a Sense of Self

Photograph of a young Native American woman.Elizabeth Garnica, known to her friends as “Garney,” was 18 when she ran away from her home town of Bakersfield, CA. She ended up in Portland, OR, where she’d heard there was plenty of help for runaway and homeless youth. At Janus Youth Services, a Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grantee, she found emergency shelter, food and other services.

More important, she found a way to feel more at home in her own skin.

From her case manager, Jennifer, Garney heard about Portland’s Native American Youth and Family Center. The center reconnected her with her Blackfoot heritage, specifically the tribe’s belief in “two-spiritedness,” which says that every person embodies both feminine and masculine spirits. Inspired by this message, Garney finally felt comfortable acknowledging and celebrating the fact that she is a lesbian.

Garney’s newfound self-understanding has helped her find stability she never had. She thinks of The Native American Youth and Family Center’s staff as her family, and Jennifer as her older sister. Their relationship is a bedrock for Garney because of Jennifer’s support when she came to terms with her sexuality.

“Jennifer told me a couple of her stories,” says Garney, “and when I knew that she was okay and I had no problems saying, ‘Hey, I’m gay,’ that’s when I knew I could trust her. That’s when I knew that I can tell her everything.”