Research & Report

Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Service Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless

Forty to None Project/True Colors Fund, The Palette Fund and the Williams Institute

Serving Our Youth, a report by the The Palette Fund, the True Colors Fund‘s Forty to None Project, and the Williams Institute, presents data from The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Homeless Youth Provider Survey, a web-based survey conducted from October 2011 through March 2012. The survey was designed to assess the experiences of homeless youth organizations in providing services to LGBT youth.


The report also assessed the prevalence of LGBT youth within the homeless populations being served by these organizations. In total, 381 respondents completed at least part of the survey, representing 354 agencies throughout the United States. Requests to participate in the web-based survey were sent to all providers on the National Runaway Switchboard and CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers resource lists, as well as partner agencies of the True Colors Fund.

Nearly all of the agencies responding to the survey (94%) reported working with homeless and runaway youth who identify as LGBT in the past year. The number serving LGBT youth has grown over the past ten years, particularly those serving transgender youth.

  • Ten years ago, 82% of respondents said that they worked with LGB youth, whereas in the past year, nearly all respondents (94%) said that they worked with LGB youth clients.
  • While less than half of respondents said that they served transgender clients ten years ago, more than three-quarters of respondents indicate that they worked with transgender youth in the past year.

LGBT youth comprise approximately 40% of the clientele served by agencies represented in the sample:

  • Among both homeless and non-homeless clients, 30% identified as gay or lesbian and 9% identified as bisexual
  • 1% of homeless and non-homeless clients were identified as “other gender” but at least another percent of the total clientele were transgender youth who were identified on the survey as either male or female
  • Nearly all agencies (91%) reported using intake forms to track the demographic information of their clients, including information on sexual orientation and gender identity; around 30% of agencies use staff estimates to approximate the number of LGBT youth. Given that youth may not be willing to self-identify as being LGBT when initially presenting for services, these data may underestimate the proportion of LGBT youth served by homeless youth providers.

LGBT youth represent between 30% and 43% of those served by drop-in centers, street outreach programs, and housing programs:

  • 43% of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBT; 30% of street outreach clients identified as LGBT
  • On average, 30% of clients utilizing housing programs identify as LGBT (26% as LGB and 4% as transgender):
    • Host Home Programs – 42% of clients identified as LGBT (LGB = 37%; transgender = 5%)
    • Permanent Housing Programs – 39% of clients identified as LGBT (LGB = 36%; transgender = 3%)
    • Transitional Living Programs – 22% of clients identified as LGBT (LGB = 19%; transgender = 3%)
    • Independent Living Programs – 22% of clients identified as LGBT (LGB = 19%; transgender = 3%)
    • Emergency Shelters – 21% of clients identified as LGBT (LGB = 17%; transgender = 4%)

Family rejection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was the most frequently cited factor contributing to LGBT homelessness. The next most frequently cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness was youth being forced out of their family homes as a result of coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Overall, respondents indicated that nearly seven in ten (68%) of their LGBT homeless clients has experienced family rejection and more than half of clients (54%) had experienced abuse in their family.

While family rejection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was the most frequently cited factor contributing to LGBT homelessness, over 40% of the agencies do not address these family-based issues. However, agencies were more likely to conduct family-based work if they served LGB homeless youth under the age of 18:

  • 75-80% of providers who served clients under age 18 indicated that they are doing family acceptance- related work, compared to 46-51% of providers who work with LGBT clients who were predominantly age 18 or older.

A clear majority of LGBT clients receive services that are available to all youth:

  • 24% of programs identified in the survey were designed specifically for LGBT youth
  • LGBT youth were reported to take part in all types of programs and services offered by participating agencies, including recreational programs, educational programs, and health promotion activities (e.g. STD/HIV testing programs).

The lack of funding, in particular government funding, was identified as the primary barrier to improving services related to reducing LGBT homelessness

  • Five of the top six factors identified as barriers to improving services related to reducing LGBT homelessness related to a lack of funding. The top three barriers were a lack of state, local, and federal funding, in that order.
  • Only 14% of agencies cited as a barrier that serving LGBT youth homelessness was not central to their mission. Few agencies endorsed barriers related to a lack of support of serving LGBT youth from staff, boards, community, or government.

The findings from the LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey indicate that almost all organizations serving homeless youth are serving LGBT youth. In fact, LGBT youth (homeless and non-homeless) make up approximately 40% of their clients, including nearly 30% of clients who utilize housing-related services, such as emergency shelter and transitional living programs.

A majority of the programs that LGBT clients take part in are services that are available to all youth, with 24% of programs specifically designed for them. Importantly, approximately 40% do not have services that address the most commonly cited factor contributing to their homelessness – rejection by their family on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. These agencies did not locate the primary barriers to improving services for LGBT homeless youth in their competency or willingness to provide such services, but in the lack of government, foundation, and private funding to develop them.