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People do not choose to be homeless — particularly young people.
The choice is made for them or is an alternative to abuse and neglect. And yet, youth homelessness is a national crisis. Each year, between 500,000 and 1.6 million youth in the U.S. are homeless or runaways .
The statistics for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender homeless youth are even more shocking, as this group represents 20-40% of all homeless young people . Considering that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth represent an estimated 3-5% of the total youth population, these numbers are disproportionately high. And while even a single homeless youth on the streets is one too many, the disparity of gay and transgender youth that are homeless is unfathomable.
Family conflict is the most common cause of all youth homelessness. For gay and transgender youth, the conflict tends to be over their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the results aren’t pretty: Half of all teens get a negative reaction from their parents when they come out to them. More than 1 in 4 are thrown out of their homes .
Imagine confiding in the people you trust most in the world only to be rejected and tossed out on the street with no place to go.
Gay and transgender youth also face significant challenges at school, in foster care, and within the juvenile justice system that are contributing factors to their becoming homeless. When seeking support to overcome the obstacles in their way, they may find a lack of welcoming and inclusive resources to provide them help.
Once they have left their homes, gay and transgender youth are even more vulnerable. They are at a greater risk for victimization, unsafe sexual practices and mental health issues than straight homeless young people. Nearly 60% have been sexually victimized on the street, compared to 33% of straight homeless youth. Gay and transgender homeless youth, in fact, are more than 7 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than straight homeless youth.
Imagine ending up on the streets with no food, shelter or support, and being taken advantage of right when you are in need of help and kindness.
When trying to seek refuge from the challenges they are facing on the streets, not all of the facilities, like shelters and drop-in centers, they come in contact with can guarantee a safe environment free of discrimination and violence.
So how can we bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth from experiencing homelessness?
First, we must deal with family rejection and foster greater acceptance in the home in order to prevent these young people from becoming homeless. We then have to take it one step further by educating society and engaging them to be a part of the solution by doing what they can to help these young people.
Imagine a future where everyone is accepted for who they are and everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
Once young people are on the streets, we must do everything we can to make sure that the services available to them are culturally component and welcoming to youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We also have to make sure that all levels of government are doing what they can to help fund these vital services and ensure that gay and transgender youth are being protected when seeking support.
Together, we can end youth homelessness among gay and transgender youth by understanding the reasons that these young people become homeless, by imagining the experience of living with no family support and by working toward solutions.
[1-4] Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
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