Homelessness amongst LGBTQI+ identifying youth is common. Can the federal government end it?

A blond woman holds a pride flag with a parade behind her.

A disproportionate number of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+ identifying. Photo by William Fonteneau // Unsplash

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on June 8 that it will launch a new campaign to support LGBTQ+ identifying youth experiencing homelessness across the United States. The program has two goals: to help youth secure housing and to combat factors which often lead to housing instability.

As part of the initiative, the agency said it will train housing and social service providers to comply with the Equal Access Rule and Fair Housing Act, which both mandate fair treatment regardless of a person’s identity, when seeking housing or housing assistance in any form.

“We know we are not the experts on the topic so we are committed to creating opportunities for peer exchange for providers about what they have learned about what is working and not working and how they can implement really good protocols and policies for treating everyone with respect and ensuring that people have the dignity they deserve when accessing homelessness services.” Marion McFadden, HUD’s principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development said.
The initiative highlights two points of stigma in the United States today: being unhoused and identifying as queer or LGBTQ+.

Twenty-eight percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported homelessness or housing instability during their lives, and less than 40% of LGBTQ+ youth found their homes to be affirming, according to a study by the Trevor Project, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit that provides mental health support to LGBTQ+ people. It also found that those who reported housing instability or homelessness had two to four times more likely to report mental health struggles such as depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidal ideation as compared against those with stable housing.

Understanding how a lack of stable housing can negatively impact a person, McFadden said, “HUD is committed to reaching people wherever they are and ensuring that they have the information they need to make their own choices.”

HUD is working with the Fair Housing Office on a “Know Your Rights” campaign, to inform youth of all the services that are available to them in the United States given that U.S. law requires that everyone is entitled to fair and equal access to housing.

However, in practice, many LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness continue to face a large number of barriers in accessing housing.

There are three main pathways into homelessness amongst LGBTQ+ youth, according to a academic study published in 2019. All of these pathways relate to a lack of acceptance for a young person’s identity, which leads to them leaving or being kicked out of their permanent home.

Local LGBTQ+ service providers agree on how important having a safe place to call home is for young people.

“For LGBTQ+ youth who may be leaving unsupportive homes, having their own space where they can focus on themselves, find community connections, access resources, invest in their emotional well-being, and quite literally have a place to explore their identity is life-affirming,” said Hancie Stokes, the director of communications for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL) D.C.

Though the HUD initiative is a nationwide campaign, Angela Jones Hackely, the CEO of Covenant House Greater Washington, a local nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ youth, said there are a number of programs specifically designed to meet the unique needs of local youth such as its SHINE program, a low-barrier shelter launched in October 2021. It is a 90 day residential program for LGBTQ+ youth who are housing insecure or have a housing crisis and need short-term stabilization.

In 2023, over 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in state legislatures, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Seventy anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been enacted, and these include but are not limited to laws which ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth and create license to discriminate.

“We know that [the social climate] is changing particularly as we hear from members of the community who are struggling with their communities’ consideration of new ordinances and laws,” McFadden said.

Issues |LGBTQ|Youth

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.