For Pride Month, we join our communities in celebrating LGBTQ+ pride, but at the same time, we highlight urgent needs among LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. A recent CDC survey found that 11.7 percent of youth aged 15 to 17 identify as “non-heterosexual” (an increase from earlier studies that may be attributable to participants’ increased comfort with sharing their LGBTQ+ sexuality). Despite changing attitudes, the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall still finds that LGBTQ+ youth are still 120 percent more likely than their peers to lose their homes and make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population. Vicious combinations of factors cause LGBTQ+ youth to lose housing. True Colors United, a national LGBTQ+ youth homelessness advocacy organization, lists the most common:
Mainstream services do not meet LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness’ needs. LGBTQ+ youth have often faced “traumatic experiences, such as harassment, stigmatization, and abuse from peers and...staff” at homeless shelters and other human service providers. As a result, they avoid mainstream support services and “couch surf,” staying with extended family, friends, or acquaintances before moving on. When their options run out (or aren’t available to begin with), LGBTQ+ youth may sleep outdoors and/or engage in survival sex, trading sex for basic needs like housing, food, clothing, and other necessities. They ultimately have higher risks of victimization through sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation.
Homelessness has lasting effects on LGBTQ+ youth. Homelessness’ health and behavioral health effects have been extensively documented, and they culminate in chronic physical and mental illnesses and premature death. LGBTQ+ youth face these risks too; however homeless service providers report major health disparities between LGBTQ+ youth and non-LGBTQ+ youth clients. For example, transgender youth experiencing homelessness are approximately 65 percent more likely to have physical health issues and 77 percent more likely to have behavioral health issues than their peers, while lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer youth are 45 percent more likely to have poor physical health and 60 percent more likely to have poor behavioral health.
BEDS has joined an innovative housing project to help LGBTQ+ and other Transition Aged Youth (TAY) regain independence. The Suburban Cook County Continuum of Care received more than $6 million in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development through a national Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP). The YHDP seeks to ensure that youth clients “will have immediate and equitable access to everything they need to thrive in their housing, education, employment, well-being, and positive connections.” BEDS partnered with other community service providers to provide housing, case management, and wraparound services for TAY.
You can support our work with LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness here.