In June, researchers at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released “Serving Our Youth 2015: The Needs and Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth Experiencing Homelessness,” a report in collaboration with the True Colors Fund. The report summarized the results of a 2014 survey of 138 providers at agencies working with homeless youth.
This survey centered around the experiences of those that identify as LGBTQ. “This new survey was designed to obtain greater detail on the similar and distinct experiences of sexual minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning) and gender minority (transgender) youth experiencing homelessness,” the report states.
The researchers reached out to agencies across the country who worked with homeless youth, in hopes that learning how homeless experiences could help the agencies improve. The providers and agencies were somewhat proportionately represented between the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast.
Of those homeless youth the agencies worked with, 25 percent identified at heterosexual, 20 percent as gay/lesbian, 7 percent at bisexual, and 2 percent questioning. Those identifying as transgender men made up one percent, transgender females made up 2 percent, and those identifying as genderqueer made up 1 percent.
Among other things, they found that more than half of those surveyed cited that the primary reason the youth they worked with were homeless was because of they either ran away from home, or were forced out, due to parental disapproval of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. According to the report, this reason was cited by 55.3 percent identifying as LGBQ and 67.1 percent identifying as transgender.
Jeff Krehely, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress said in an interview posted on the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness’s website that while children are feeling more comfortable to come out at younger ages, they might still face rejection and abuse from family and/or peers at school.
“It’s a chain reaction,” Krehely said. “Rejection leads them to run away from home (if they aren’t physically locked out) and then they end up dropping out of school, and tumble from a stable life in a family to couch surfing, living at a shelter or in foster care, and ultimately end up on the street. Because at each step they are discriminated against, they just keep falling.”
The average time someone who identifies as LGBTQ is homeless was found to be longer than non-LGBTQ youth.
In their conclusion, the researchers wrote that “most agencies working with youth experiencing homelessness reported the need for staff dedicated to LGBTQ youth or LGBTQ issues. Some also indicated that having staff who identified as LGBTQ was a factor in the success of working with LGBTQ youth.” They continue to write that “Funding was noted again as a major barrier to working with LGBTQ youth. One interesting finding is the issue of training. On one hand, most surveyed staff reported having received some specialized training for LGBTQ youth work. Yet, almost 25% note that training is a barrier to serving these youth.”
TrueColorsFund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to raise awareness of LGBTQ youth homelessness and work towards ending it by working with the public, organizing, researching, and forming public policy plans that are beneficial to those in need. It was founded by musician Cyndi Lauper in 2008 to “create a world in which all young people can be their true selves.” This is just one of the programs that has been founded in response to a growing trend.
“The future is mixed,” Krehely said in his interview. “I am optimistic because we are finally seeing an accumulation of data on this issue and we are seeing a new awareness in the field on how to address it. However, we are at the same time going through a tough time economically as a nation and that leads to cuts in social services in general. It makes it that much more important for us to make clear that these programs need to be viewed from a long-term perspective economically. The cost is not high and the results can be dramatic.”