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February 2, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 05
 
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Report reveals epidemic of homelessness among LGBT youth
Report reveals epidemic of homelessness among LGBT youth
More than 500,000 LGBT youth at risk of homelessness this winter

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 - According to a new report, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness, released nationally today by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in collaboration with the National Coalition for the Homeless, between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender.

Given that approximately 3 to 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Gay or Lesbian, these figures are grossly disproportionate. Nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, each year between 570,000 and 1.6 million youth run away or are homeless. This means that between 320,000 and 640,000 of these youth are LGBT.

Through a comprehensive analysis of the available research and professional literature, the report responds to basic questions, including why so many LGBT youth are becoming and remaining homeless. It addresses the harassment and violence that many of these youth experience in existing public shelter system, and summarizes research on critical problems affecting these youth, including mental health issues, substance abuse and risky sexual behavior. The report also analyzes government responses to youth homelessness and the specific impact on LGBT homeless youth of federal funding for faith-based service providers.

"It is a national disgrace that 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender. It is a further disgrace that federal programs that assist homeless young people have been pitifully underfunded. The Task Force calls on the president and the new Congress - as they begin this Monday to focus on the federal budget - to address the unmet social service needs of all vulnerable Americans. That means recognizing and addressing the epidemic of homelessness among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"This report brings attention to the dangers and inequalities faced by LGBT homeless youth, who make up a disproportionate percentage of the homeless youth population. It will enlighten the public on the needs of this traditionally underserved group and promote positive policy change at both the state and federal levels," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. Key findings revealed in the report include:

- Family conflict, including conflict over a youth's sexual orientation or gender identity, is the primary cause for young people becoming homeless. In one study, 50 percent of Gay male teens who came out to their parents experienced a negative reaction and 26 percent of them were told they must leave home.
- LGBT youth report experiencing discrimination, harassment and violence at shelters and from service providers. For example, one facility in Michigan forced youth who identified as or were perceived as being LGBT to wear orange jumpsuits.
- LGBT homeless youth are more likely to suffer from mental health issues and substance abuse than are their heterosexual peers, and are more likely to be victimized by sexual predators.

"The most striking point to emerge from this study is the extent to which Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth are disproportionately represented in the overall homeless youth population," said Nick Ray, author of the report. "This is a community in crisis. This community has been underfunded and ill-served by the federal government and many service providers. It reveals the critical nature of LGBT homeless youths' circumstances."

Five chapters in the report highlight model programs: the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, Mich.; Urban Peak in Denver, Colo.; Waltham House in Waltham, Mass.; Green Chimneys in New York City and Ozone House in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Ruth Ellis Center is proud to participate in this policy paper with the Task Force. Having worked in this field for 23 years, I have never seen a more comprehensive and practical publication on the subject of working with LGBTQ youth," said Grace McClelland, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center. "LGBTQ youth are at great risk for homelessness and, when homeless, they are at greater risk than their peers for harassment, assault, drug use and other destructive experiences. It's up to not only the adult LGBT community, but all of us to face this situation - the cost of not addressing it is too high," said Theresa Nolan, division director of NYC Programs at Green Chimneys Children's Services.

The report concludes with critical public policy recommendations including:

- Establishing funding streams to provide housing options for all homeless youth and requiring that recipients of these funds are committed to the safe and appropriate treatment of LGBT homeless youth.
- Permitting dedicated shelter and housing for LGBT youth.
- Extending comprehensive health insurance and services through the age of 24 to all low-income youth via Medicaid.
- Requiring all agencies that seek public funding and licensure to serve homeless youth to adopt nondiscrimination policies for LGBT youth.
- Mandating LGBT awareness training as a part of the professional licensing process for all health care, social service, child welfare and juvenile justice agency staff.

The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement.

A Task Force press release

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