Homelessness and Housing

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. LGBT youth who run away and experience homelessness are at high risk for certain negative experiences and outcomes.1 LGBTQ+ youth are significantly overrepresented in homeless populations compared with the general population.2 The Voices of Youth Count project from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that LGBTQ young adults are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers. Additionally, youth who are Black or multiracial and LGBTQ reported the highest rates of homelessness (16 percent), and white and LGBTQ youth report a rate of 8 percent.3

LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness at higher rates than non-LGBTQ+ youth for a range of reasons. A study of more than 350 runaway and homeless providers throughout the United States identified four top causes for homelessness among LGBTQ+ 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.4 Another study that interviewed LGBTQ+ youth who experienced homelessness found that the path to homelessness was “described as a gradual escalation of the parent-child conflict over time, or a growing sense of rejection in the home...” This finding shows there may be more opportunity to intervene before an LGBTQ+ youth becomes homeless.5

Experiences of LGBTQ+ Youth Who Experience Homelessness

In shelters, while searching for housing, and on the streets, LGBTQ+ 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.6 LGBTQ+ 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.7 LGB youth who experience homelessness also experience high rates of conduct disorder, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal behavior.8

Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth Who Experience Homelessness

To address these challenges, LGBTQ+ youth who experience homelessness 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 affirm their identity and welcome them.9 This requires strategies to improve the cultural competence of staff working in these programs and providing these services, including:

  • analyzing how staff are screened before being hired>
  • providing professional development to current staff, including enhanced training to identify and respond to trauma experienced by this population10
  • engaging LGBTQ+ youth as full partners in strengthening and improving systems and services
  • locating LGBT-sensitive outreach, services, and housing options in or near predominantly black and multiracial communities equitably11
  • developing partnerships with the LGBTQ+ community to connect youth with adult LGBTQ+ role models12

Runaway and homeless youth services should also follow positive youth development and trauma-informed approaches 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.13 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.14 It is also important for runaway and homeless youth services to:

  • promote positive youth development
  • provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth
  • offer services and supports to reconnect youth with their families when it is safe to do so
  • connect youth to community resources and services that are affirming and safe for LGBTQ+ youth
  • expand public awareness about LGBT youth issues and decrease stigma associated with LGBT identity15

Resources

Framework to End Youth Homelessness: A Resource Text for Dialogue and Action (PDF, 15 pages)
This framework provides clarity on how to address youth homelessness to help reach the federal goal of ending homelessness among children and youth.

getREAL (Recognize. Engage. Affirm. Love)
This initiative promotes the healthy development of all children and youth, with a focus on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. getREAL challenges public systems working with children and youth to improve their policies and practices to support 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, 8 pages)
This guide 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 includes a section 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
This Center, which includes LGBTQ+-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 training and technical assistance, publications and materials, online learning opportunities, and networking and collaboration.

Housing Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals and Families
This website 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.

SAMHSA's Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach
This paper responds to/recognizes the impact of trauma on behavioral health and beyond, and introduces the concept of trauma and offers a framework for how to become trauma-informed. The Four E’s of trauma and Four R’s of a trauma-informed approach to care offer a strong source of guidance for youth service providers looking to support LGBTQ+ homeless and runaway youth and other trauma-exposed populations.

Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth: Case Studies of Runaway and Homeless Youth Program Grantees
This report summarizes findings from four case studies of four ACF runaway and homeless youth (RHY) program grantees that serve LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ RHY, (3) providers’ approaches to serving LGBTQ RHY, and (4) providers’ perceptions of research gaps and data needs related to services for LGBTQ RHY.

Learning from the Field: Expert Panel on Youth Who Are LGBTQI2-S and Homeless (Summary of Proceedings) (PDF, 45 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 LGBTQI2-S youth.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) LGBTQ Resources
This webpage provides resources to help ensure fair and equal access to housing regardless of sexual orientation. This webpage explains the HUD Equal Access Rules, understanding an individual’s rights under the Fair Housing Act, how to file a discrimination complaint (including downloadable app tools), and other materials.

Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America
The Voices of Youth Count project conducted research with LGBTQ youth who experience homelessness and developed a special report and one pager (PDF, 1 page) that includes study findings and recommendations.

True Colors Fund
This project was developed 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 LGBTQ youth homelessness. The True Colors Forty to None Project carries out programs and initiatives on 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 communities and providers.

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
This website includes federal data and resources on homelessness in the United States including a section focused on LGBT youth.

 

References

1 Poirier, Murphy, Shelton, & Costello, 2013
2 Ray, 2006
3 Morton et al., 2018; The rates of homelessness for white and black non-LGBT youth were half of the rates for LGBT youth (4 percent and 7 percent).
4 Durso & Gates, 2012
5 Morton et al., 2018
6 Homelessness Resources Center, n.d., 2010; Kenney, Fisher, Grandin, Hanson, & Winn, 2012; Ray 2006
7 Lambda Legal, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Network for Youth, & National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2009
8 Ray, 2006
9 Poirier, Murphy, Shelton, & Costello, 2013; Poirier, Fisher, Hunt, & Bearse, 2014
10 Morton et al., 2018
11 Morton et al., 2018
12 Kenney, Fisher, Grandin, Hanson, & Winn, 2012
13 Guarino, Soares, Konnath, Clervil, & Bassuk, 2009
14 Guarino et al., 2009
15 Poirier, Murphy, Shelton, & Costello, 2013; Homeless Resource Center, 2010

Other Resources on this Topic

Youth Voices

Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).