Many questions surround the issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness.
- Do LGBTQ youth need separate housing?
- Do LGBTQ youth need specialized services?
- When solving youth homelessness, can we automatically assume the needs of LGBTQ youth will be brought to the table?
- What can local communities do to provide services to LGBTQ youth when they have limited resources to provide services to youth at all?
- What is HUD’s role in providing services to LGBTQ youth?
- What is FYSB doing to better serve LGBTQ youth?
- How many LGBTQ homeless youth are there?
Unfortunately, we do not have definitive answers to these questions.
However there is research to suggest that a risk factor for homelessness among youth is identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. LGBTQ youth are more likely to suffer physical abuse in the home, which can lead to ejection from the home and, ultimately, homelessness. This experience is unique to LGBTQ youth; a heterosexual kid isn’t told to leave home because of his or her sexual orientation just like a tall kid doesn’t suffer abuse at home because of his height. Therefore, the unique experiences of LGBTQ youth at home (non-acceptance) and out of the home (underserved) must be taken into consideration when developing solutions to youth homelessness.
We’ve all seen the statistics and have heard the horror stories of LGBTQ youth being victims of sexual exploitation, being discriminated against at shelters, not feeling safe, and having fewer opportunities because of their identity. But the question remains: what do we do about LGBTQ youth homelessness?
It is imperative that interventions for youth homelessness such as family reunification, crisis intervention, street outreach, targeted outreach, and (of course) housing services, take into consideration the unique needs and experiences of LGBTQ youth when they’re applied to this population. A few recommendations to ensure that LGBTQ youth are afforded inclusive and equal access to services, at the federal and local level are:
- Incorporate cultural competency in services such as family reunification, connections to mentors, health and life skills development
- Train staff to be culturally competent in the needs and experiences of LGBTQ youth.
- Provide LGBTQ youth with the opportunity to connect with their LGBTQ peers in the community who will provide them with a circle of support and positive adult connections.
- Recognize that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of suffering from depression and low self-esteem for reasons such as not being accepted at home or at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Implement strong non-discrimination policies at shelters and other service provider organizations to protect the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth.
- Include LGBTQ youth in Point-In-Time counts; and community youth counts and surveys.
- Target outreach to LGBTQ youth so that they become aware of services and housing programs that are available to them.
- Include LGBTQ youth in research agendas to find out what approaches and interventions work best for them in ending youth homelessness.
- Recognize that LGBTQ youth are at high risk of being victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
This population of people experiencing homelessness are at particularly heightened vulnerability: due to their age, their sexual orientation, their personal experiences and cause of homelessness. Knowing that, we can apply the right kinds of solutions and housing practices to ensure that they are served in an efficient and effective way. We can end LGBTQ youth homelessness working together and employing the best known practices.
Photo courtesy of http://www.looneytunes09.wordpress.com.