Most reports indicate that LGBTQ individuals comprise around 20 percent of the homeless youth population, though some cite numbers as high as 40 percent. Contrasted with the percentage of LGBTQ individuals in the general youth population –7 percent – these numbers are alarmingly high.
Homeless youth typically report factors such as familial conflict, poverty, abuse, and emancipation from the foster care system as the underlying causes for their homelessness. In addition to these concerns, LGBTQ youth specifically may face rejection or abandonment by family members due to sexual orientation or identity, which may also contribute to their homelessness. Ultimately, LGBTQ youth face a higher risk of homelessness than their heterosexual peers, as well as a much higher risk for exploitation and victimization upon becoming homeless.
- LGBTQ homeless youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual homeless peers.
- LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of physical assault, mental health issues, and unsafe sexual behaviors than heterosexual homeless youth.
- Homeless LGBTQ youth experience an average of 7.4 more acts of sexual violence toward them than their heterosexual peers.
Due to the exceptional risks that LGBTQ homeless youth face, it is vital to assume a comprehensive and appropriate approach to ending their homelessness. A True Colors Fund survey found that 65 percent of homeless service providers say lack of funding is the main barrier to assisting the LGBTQ homeless youth they serve. Similarly, cultural disconnects between LGBTQ individuals and service providers can hinder the reintegration process. Being able to break down these barriers – financially or otherwise – is critical to eliminating homelessness within this sub-group.
Gap in Understanding. LGBTQ homeless youth often feel uncomfortable engaging with service providers they feel don’t understand the unique experiences of LGBTQ community members. True Colors Fund found that emotional support was the second greatest need expressed by LGBQ homeless youth (19 percent), immediately following housing. For Transgender individuals, transition-related support ranked as the second greatest need after housing (26 percent).
Underrepresentation in Data. In general, homeless youth are reluctant to disclose their living situations, and work harder to blend in with peers who have more stable housing. The sensitivity of issues related to gender and sexuality may also lead LGBTQ youth to not reveal these details to service providers, causing further imprecision in data gathered. Combined, both factors may lead to an underrepresentation of LGBTQ youth in homeless statistics, placing restrictive limitations on abilities to enact potentially helpful policy for queer and transgender homeless youth.
Abandonment or rejection. Many LGBTQ homeless youth cite abandonment or rejection as a major factor leading to homelessness. LGBTQ homeless youth who experience either of these are at higher risk for depression, substance abuse, HIV, and STDs. LGBTQ homeless youth who experienced high levels of rejection from family members are also eight times more likely to report suicidal attempts, compared with those who experienced very little to no rejection. However, LGBTQ individuals with positive family relationships reported higher levels of self-esteem, support and satisfaction.
Legislation. We previously covered the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA), which would reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) in a blog post, but it merits mentioning again. This reauthorization would include nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ youth in explicit terms, and would improve the wealth of options available to them.
Additionally, ensuring that shelters are respectful, safe and welcoming spaces with guaranteed equality of access is essential to addressing homelessness amongst LGBTQ youth.
Another core provision of the RHYTPA focuses on research and data collection –valuable tools to improve programs dedicated to assisting all homeless youth. For LGBTQ youth specifically, data collection becomes difficult due to misworded questioning. To this end, True Colors Fund recommends clear, respectful and inclusive phrasing, establishing confidentiality and trust, using appropriate terminology and indicating support for the individual.
Prevention. Because many LGBTQ youth become homeless due to conflict with family over sexual orientation or gender identity, family intervention can be hugely impactful. The Family Acceptance Project, started in 2012, promotes this method as a way to negotiate the conflicts that many LGBTQ youth face at home. By introducing family intervention methods early on, it is possible to treat the source of homelessness for some LGBTQ youth directly, and potentially prevent future episodes altogether.
While cities and LGBTQ communities across the country celebrate Pride Month, it’s a perfect moment to reflect on the many underserved youth that still require support. Here at the Alliance, it is our belief that a coordinated community response is the only way to end homelessness for LGBTQ youth. Most importantly, perhaps, we believe that ending LGBTQ youth homelessness is an achievable goal, and that it is everyone’s responsibility.