Homelessness is a devastating experience that has a significant negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental health, well-being, functioning, human development, and life trajectory—and LGBT runaway and homeless youth are at high risk for a number of negative experiences and outcomes.1 Recent studies, as well as anecdotal evidence from social service professionals, suggest that LGBT youth are significantly overrepresented in homeless populations compared with their proportion of the U.S. population.2 Analyses of available data have found that approximately 1.6 million (an estimated 1 in 7) U.S. youth ages 12 to 17 ran away from home and experienced at least one night of homelessness in 2002.3 Although research on the percentage of homeless youth who are LGBT varies, analyses suggest that approximately 20 percent to 40 percent of these youth identify as LGBT.4 Also, African American and Native American youth are disproportionately represented among LGBT homeless youth.5
LGBT youth experience homelessness at higher rates than non-LGBT youth for a range of reasons. A recent study of more than 350 runaway and homeless providers throughout the United States identified four top causes for homelessness among LGBT youth: (1) family rejection resulting from sexual orientation or gender identity; (2) physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; (3) aging out of the foster care system; and (4) financial and emotional neglect.6
Experiences of LGBT Homeless Youth
In shelters, while searching for housing, and on the streets, these youth may endure traumatic experiences, such as harassment, stigmatization, and abuse from peers and shelter staff as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression.7 Youth may find it difficult to find housing and may be asked to leave shelters after revealing their sexual or gender identity. As a result of harassment and negative experiences in shelters, LGBT youth are more likely to live on the streets than their heterosexual peers and are especially vulnerable to physical and sexual exploitation.8 LGBT youth who are homeless also experience high rates of conduct disorder, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal behavior.9
Supporting LGBT Homeless Youth
To address these challenges, LGBT youth who are homeless need access to safe, supportive housing. Street outreach, homeless shelters, transitional living programs, and other housing programs and services for youth should be free of bias and harassment and provide access to culturally competent services that affirms their identity and welcomes them.10 This requires strategies to improve the cultural competence of staff working in these programs and providing these services, including how staff are screened before being hired; professional development of current staff; and development of partnerships with the LGBT community to connect youth with adult LGBT role models.11 Runaway and homeless youth services should also follow positive youth development and trauma-informed approaches (PDF, 9 pages) in providing care and supports. Such an approach requires that system and program policies, practices, structures, and values are grounded in knowledge and understanding of trauma. Care that is not trauma informed risks inadvertent retraumatization of vulnerable youth.12 A trauma-informed approach focuses on physical, psychological, and emotional safety. Many youth who are homeless have experienced chaotic and violent environments. Youth can more easily heal when they feel safe.13 It is also important for runaway and homeless youth services to
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently taken steps to provide equal access to housing for LGBT youth and adults, limit discrimination, and provide resources for reporting discrimination.15
The Economic Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care
This brief discusses the well-being of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth aging out of foster care, comparing data with data for their heterosexual peers. Data came from a longitudinal study, the Midwest Study of Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth. This brief was written as part of the Youth Demonstration Development project, supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Framework to End Youth Homelessness: A Resource Text for Dialogue and Action (PDF, 19 pages)
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Framework to End Youth Homelessness (youth framework) provides clarity on how to address youth homelessness to help reach the federal goal of ending homelessness among children and youth by 2020.
The getR.E.A.L (Recognize. Engage. Affirm. Love) initiative of the Center for the Study of Social Policy is designed to help transform child welfare policy and practice to promote the healthy development of all children and youth. It focuses on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (along with race, ethnicity, and disability) as part of the identity formation that occurs in adolescence. The getR.E.A.L name was crafted as a challenge to public systems working with children. It also provides lessons, implications, and a process for parents, caregivers, and all system-involved youth. The acronym is directed at all these stakeholders—and many others—as a means of meeting the initiative’s primary goal to improve the healthy sexual and identity development of all children and youth in child welfare systems.
A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming LGBTQI2-S Children, Youth, and Families (PDF, 19 pages)
This guide, written by members of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Workgroup to Address the Needs of Children and Youth Who Are LGBTQI2-S and Their Families, provides information for service providers, educators, allies, and community members who seek to support the health and well-being of children and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, or two-spirit (LGBTQI2-S) and their families. This guide can support efforts to promote full and affirming inclusion of LGBTQI2-S youth and families in communities and provider settings (e.g., child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, schools). The guide’s last page includes a place for organizations to add their endorsement electronically. Both the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) have endorsed the guide.
Homelessness Resource Center: Homeless Populations
The Homelessness Resource Center is managed by the Homeless and Housing Resource Network, supported by SAMHSA. This Center, which includes LGBT-related resources, is an interactive community of providers, consumers, policymakers, researchers, and public agencies at federal, state, and local levels. It shares state-of-the-art knowledge and promising practices to prevent and end homelessness through
Housing Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals and Families
This website of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a list of states that enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity in their state fair housing laws. It also provides information and resources to report housing discrimination.
Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth: Case Studies of Runaway and Homeless Youth Program Grantees (PDF, 52 pages)
This report summarizes findings from four case studies of four ACF runaway and homeless youth (RHY) program grantees that serve LGBT and questioning youth. The report’s findings address four topics: (1) agencies’ collection and use of data on clients’ sexual orientation and gender identity, (2) providers’ assessment and perceptions of needs and capacities among LGBT and questioning RHY, (3) providers’ approaches to serving LGBT and questioning RHY, and (4) providers’ perceptions of research gaps and data needs related to services for LGBT and questioning RHY.
Learning from the Field: Expert Panel on Youth Who Are LGBTQI2-S and Homeless (Summary of Proceedings) (PDF, 50 pages)
This document highlights key issues, strategies, best practices, and next steps for collaboration between the Homelessness Resource Center and other stakeholders to address homelessness among LGBT youth.
True Colors Fund
The True Colors Fund was co-founded by Cyndi Lauper to inspire and engage everyone, especially straight people, to become active participants in the advancement of equality for all and to raise awareness about and bring an end to LGBT youth homelessness. The True Colors Forty to None Project is carrying out extensive set of programs and initiatives around the areas of education, advocacy, empowerment, capacity building, and inclusion. The project’s webpage includes a search engine to identify local runaway and homeless youth providers that are welcoming and inclusive. The website also has best practice and other resources for community and providers.
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
This website, sponsored by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, includes information and resources on homelessness in the United States.
1 Poirier, Murphy, Shelton, & Costello, 2013
2 Ray, 2006
3 Center for American Progress, 2010; Ray, 2006
4 Sears & Badgett, 2012
5 Centrone, Kenney, & Shapiro, 2009
6 Durso & Gates, 2012
7 Homelessness Resources Center, n.d., 2010; Kenney, Fisher, Grandin, Hanson, & Winn, 2012; Ray 2006
8 Lambda Legal, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Network for Youth, & National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2009
9 Ray, 2006
10 Poirier, Murphy, Shelton, & Costello, 2013; Poirier, Fisher, Hunt, & Bearse, 2014
11 Kenney, Fisher, Grandin, Hanson, & Winn, 2012
12 Guarino, Soares, Konnath, Clervil, & Bassuk, 2009
13 Guarino et al., 2009
14 Poirier, Murphy, Shelton, & Costello, 2013; Homeless Resource Center, 2010
15 Carroll, 2010
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