Gay and transgender youth are disproportionately homeless compared to youth in general, a June report released by the Center for American Progress finds. Further, once homeless, these youth face increased instances of physical and sexual exploitation.
The report synthesizes current research on homeless youth while highlighting research on those who are transgender or gay. In addition, the report provides personal accounts from transgender and gay youth who have experienced homelessness.
While gay and transgender youth, those between the ages of 12 and 24, make up only 7% of the U.S. youth population, research estimates that they comprise as much as 39% of all homeless youth. For example, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that gay and transgender youth are 20% of the homeless youth population nationwide.
Gay and transgender homeless youth are predominantly members of racial minority groups. This report cites results from a New York survey of gay and transgender homeless youth in which 44% of the gay youth were black and 26% Hispanic. Of the transgender youth, 62% were black and 20% Hispanic.
The report also finds that homeless shelters, often a last resort or refuge, are failing to offer safety and protection for these youth, citing evidence that gay and transgender homeless youth are facing high rates of harassment, violence, and discrimination in out-of-home facilities and homeless shelters. As a result, many of these homeless youth end up on the streets, engaging in criminal activity such as “survival sex,” robbery, and selling drugs to survive. Many times this activity results in incarceration.
Looking at the causes for the rising number of gay and transgender homeless youth, the report points to research that finds that between 2003 and 2005 the average age of self-identification was 13.4 years or age – the lowest average in age since 1970. While family conflict is found to be a major cause of gay and transgender youth homelessness, the report concludes that this trend in self-identification is likely responsible for the increasing numbers in youth homelessness and suggests that these numbers will continue to rise.
The authors suggest that the country’s safety nets do not currently offer adequate support and protections for this extremely vulnerable population. Research suggests that federally funded programs that target homeless youth are severely underfunded and serve only a small proportion of the population. Specifically, the authors call for greater federal support for homeless youth housing assistance while expanding the housing options for gay and transgender homeless youth.
The 2010 report, On the Streets: The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth, is available at: http://www. americanprogress.org/issues/2010/06/on_the_streets.html