Prevalence of youth homelessness and LGBTQ+ homelessness

Research has shown that those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ+) have a 120% higher risk of experiencing some form of homelessness.[1] With up to 40% of the 4.2 million youth experiencing homelessness identifying as LGBTQ+[2] while only 9.5% of the U.S. population[3], LGBTQ+ youth disproportionately experience homelessness compared to their straight and cisgender peers. They are also more likely to experience assault, trauma, depression, and suicide when compared to non-LGBTQ+ populations while also being homeless. These statistics are even worse for Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) LGBTQ+ populations who suffer from racial inequities and discrimination.  

Pathways to homelessness for LGBTQ+ youth

Family conflict is the primary cause of homelessness for LGBTQ+ youth, which is disproportionately due to a lack of acceptance by family members of a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Family rejection, however, is not the only cause. Aging out of the foster care system, poverty, and shortages of shelters and housing programs leave many LGBTQ+ people with nowhere to go.[4] Within this community, there are also significantly higher rates of domestic violence. Bisexual women have a higher prevalence of rape, physical violence, and stalking than heterosexual women. Lesbian and gay men also reported higher levels of intimate partner violence and sexual violence when compared to heterosexual relationships.[5] LGBTQ+ youth fleeing home to escape sexual violence is also a significant pathway to homelessness for youth. Once out of their homes, LGBTQ+ youth are at an even greater risk of violence, trafficking, mental health issues, and emotional or physical abuse.

Barriers in Exiting Homelessness

Homelessness does not have a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Complex factors such as jobs, race, poverty, and mental health challenges make it very difficult for people to exit homelessness. Youth face even more barriers because the majority of the homelessness response system was designed for adults. The lack of social services and community outreach compounded with a lack of legislative attention serve only to perpetuate homelessness among this vulnerable population. 

Barriers for the BIPOC LGBTQ+ Community

BIPOC youth have an 83% higher risk of experiencing homelessness when compared to their non-BIPOC counterparts, with BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth at even higher risk of homelessness. Anti-black racism, white supremacy, and housing discrimination put Black LGBTQ+ youth at significant risk of experiencing homelessness and create many roadblocks to exit homelessness. A 2015 survey highlighted that 20% of the black transgender people were unemployed and 38% in poverty, which are more than two times the average rate of non-transgender black people. Anti-transgender stigmas, family rejection, and hostile political climates increase the chances of BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth stay in homeless situations. 

Recommendations

  • LGBTQ+ youth have unique needs based on their identities and need no barrier to welcoming and affirming housing options with supportive services, inclusive of transition-related support, healthcare access, legal services, and mental/emotional support systems. 
  • Ensure that youth and their families are provided with therapeutic approaches appropriate for LGBTQ+ youth. 
  • Pass laws that prohibit discrimination in access to housing and services for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness.  
  • Significantly increased funding for housing and services for youth, encouraging assessments and approaches that respond to the diversity of homeless LGBTQ+ youth. 

Policy Solutions 

The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYPTA) needs to be reintroduced in the 117th Congress and enact critical changes that increase young people’s ability to access pathways to independence, socioeconomic mobility, and success. RHYTPA would also add a comprehensive nondiscrimination clause, significantly increase authorized funding levels, and add a prevention program to more intensively focus on providing prevention services to young people at risk of experiencing any form of homelessness.

Equality Act NOW
In a bipartisan vote, the House passed the Equality Act this spring. The legislation is now before the Judiciary Committee of the Senate, where committee members are engaged in bipartisan discussions about the bill’s language. It’s believed that the Senate could vote on the bill this summer. Visit the Human Rights Campaign website to take action. 

References

[1] Morton, M.H., Dworsky, A., Matjasko, J.L., Curry, S.R., Schlueter, D., Chávez, R. & Farrell, A.F. (in press). Prevalence and correlates of youth homelessness in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health.

[2] Morton, M. H., Samuels, G. M., Dworsky, A., & Patel, S. (2018). Missed opportunities: LGBTQ youth homelessness in America. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

[3] Conron, K.J. LGBT Youth Population in the United States. (September 2020). The Williams Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.

[4] Morton, M. H., Samuels, G. M., Dworsky, A., & Patel, S. (2018). Missed opportunities: LGBTQ youth homelessness in America. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

[5] Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What You Need To Know

  • Research has shown that those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ+) have a 120% higher risk of experiencing some form of homelessness.

  • Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ disproportionately experience homelessness. They are at high risk for family rejection, physical assaults, and sexual exploitation in shelters and on the streets. Providing safe, supportive, and welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth is essential for reaching this vulnerable population.

  • Some LGBTQ+ homeless youth have reported discriminatory practices and policies when trying to access homeless youth services. Others have been assaulted by peers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity while participating in programs designed to help homeless youth stabilize their lives.