How You Can Help Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth Right Now
By Sassafras Lowrey
Did you know that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ? Despite the progress we have made to advance LGBTQ+ rights, our community’s youth are still disproportionately more likely to be impacted by homelessness. We can all do more to raise awareness around this dire crisis and support LGBTQ+ homeless youth in our local communities right now. Here’s how:
Understanding The Issue
Although youth homelessness is something a lot of people don’t like to think about, housing instability and homelessness are a reality for a large population of LGBTQ+ people. The most recent studies show that LGBTQ+ youth make up approximately 7% of the general youth population, but 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ youth are so overrepresented amongst homeless youth, that they are 120% times more likely to experience homelessness than cisgender and heterosexual teens. LGBTQ+ youth from every race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic background are experiencing homelessness in every area of the country
Why LGBTQ Youth Experience Homelessness:
On top of all the reasons youth may become homeless, from violence in the home to parental substance abuse, LGBTQ+ youth are also frequently experiencing homelessness because they are kicked out or pushed out of their family homes because of homophobia and/or transphobia. In some cases, parents or guardians may feel that they have religious or cultural justification for the abandonment of their queer-identifying child. In other cases, the home environment becomes so toxic and unsafe that LGBTQ+ youth run away from home, feeling safer on the streets or in shelters than they do with their family of origin.
In addition, the homophobic and transphobic legislation we are currently seeing spread across the country such as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, and numerous anti-LGBTQ+ and especially anti-transgender ballot measures and legislative decisions across the country are having a negative impact. The continued discourse around these bills raise the very real risk of emboldening parents of LGBTQ+ kids and teens into thinking it is appropriate or justified to mistreat their LGBTQ+ children, or deny access to affirming, resources and healthcare.
Not only are LGBTQ+ youth more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender and heterosexual peers, but they also face unique challenges once they become homeless. Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ youth experience discrimination and harassment while trying to access services and support. In some communities around the country, the only youth shelter options available have a religious affiliation which may or may not be welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ+ people. In shelter settings, youth may be discriminated against by staff or face harassment from other residents. In addition, some shelters mandate that youth are housed communally in gender segregated rooms based on their gender assigned at birth and not how a young person identifies. In these cases, many LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness choose to stay on the streets or find other means of accessing temporary housing by couch surfing (staying with friends etc.) instead of facing discrimination.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Homeless Youth:
LGBTQ+ identified youth are overrepresented among populations of youth experiencing homelessness. This means regardless of where you live, chances are there are homeless LGBTQ+ youth in your local communities. We can all make commitments to supporting LGBTQ+ homeless youth across the country, and in our local communities. If you’re looking to support youth experiencing homelessness in your area, connect with local LGBTQ+ community centers, youth drop-in programs, shelters, and transitional living programs in your local area to find out what programming and services they offer and what kinds of support they might need. This index can be a helpful place to start.
Donate Where You Can:
If you are in a position of being able to provide financial support, consider making a one-time or ongoing monetary donation to organizations working directly with LGBTQ+ youth.
Especially look at supporting organizations with youth leadership, meaning LGBTQ+ youth are in positions where they can make decisions about services being provided. Reach out to organizations in your local area that are working directly with LGBTQ+ youth to find out what kind of support and resources they need. Money, new or gently used clothing items, and toiletries are often needed by organizations providing services and support to homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
Give Your Time:
A great way to support LGBTQ+ homeless youth in your local community is through donating your time. Volunteering as a peer or adult mentor is frequently needed at drop-in programs, community centers and shelters. If you have specific skills in art, resume writing, math tutoring or anything else you may be able to share these skills with homeless youth in your local community. Most community groups, shelters, and drop-in programs also need volunteers to come serve a meal or play games with residents- no skills needed. Connect with your local LGBTQ+ community center, or youth shelters and find out what kind of volunteer support they are looking for and consider getting involved. Just being able to connect with supportive members of the community can have a huge positive impact in the lives of LGBTQ+ young people experiencing homelessness.
Think of Youth at the Ballot Box:
One small thing that every single one of us can do is to think about LGBTQ+ homeless youth when we are at the ballot box and look at what candidates we want to vote for. Make sure that politicians who you are supporting have specific, comprehensive, and inclusive plans to support the homeless in their jurisdictions. It is also critical once they are elected, to ensure they are successfully implementing their proposed programming. As elected officials are declaring states of emergency to try and provide immediate support for people experiencing homelessness, like Mayor Karen Bass in Los Angeles, be sure to call those officials to make sure they are aware that LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and need culturally sensitive and affirming services.
Open Your Ears & Heart:
Regardless of what other ways you’re able to support youth experiencing homelessness, one of the most important things all of us can do is to open our ears and heart to listen to unhoused youth. Youth are the experts on their lived experiences, and they know better than anyone- including parents and service providers- what they would find helpful right now. We need to listen, and then act based on what youth are telling us.
LGBTQ+ youth homelessness has been an epidemic within our community for generations. Unfortunately, although we continue to see advancements in protecting LGBTQ+ people and relationships more broadly, there is still a lot of work to be done to protect and meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth and end youth homelessness. None of us as individuals can end youth homelessness, however working together there are small things each of us can do to provide to organizations and programs that support youth experiencing homelessness in our local areas.
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. You can find more of her written works, including her edited collection exploring LGBTQ+ youth homelessness entitled Kicked Out, on her website www.SassafrasLowrey.com.