LGBTQ young adults experience homelessness at more than twice the rate of their peers

Chapin Hall finds at-risk group experiences high levels of trauma, assault, early death

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer young adults are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their non-LGBTQ peers. They are also at greater risk for experiencing high levels of hardship, including higher rates of assault, of exchanging sex for basic needs and of early death. These findings emerged from research by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, which provides new insights to the challenges faced by America’s youth who experience homelessness.

“Our study reveals the vulnerability of LGBTQ youth in our country today. They are at higher risk both before and during their experiences of homelessness,” said Bryan Samuels, executive director of Chapin Hall. “Given the evidence that our young people are in harm’s way, we have an obligation to act to protect them. Fortunately, our findings point to solutions, too.”

This is the second in a series of research briefs on youth experiencing homelessness. A paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health was the basis for the first brief, which identified high levels of youth homelessness nationwide.

The report is among the first national assessments of the increased risks facing LGBTQ youth. It found:

  • LGBTQ youth are among the most at-risk sub populations for homelessness. Young adults (18-25) who identify as LGBTQ experienced homelessness at more than twice the rate of their non-LGBTQ peers. Black LGBTQ youth, especially young men, had the highest rates of homelessness.
  • Among youth experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ youth had twice the rate of early death as other youth. LGBTQ youth also experienced higher levels of adversity, including higher rates of assault and of exchanging sex for basic needs.
  • Youth made decisions about seeking services based on the reputation of the agency providing the services. Safe and affirming systems and services are important to LGBTQ youth.
  • The factors that led young LGBTQ people to experience homelessness stem from more than “coming out.” Their families faced broader issues of instability, including poverty, violence, addiction or mental health problems that contributed to their risk for homelessness and adversity.

In addition to revealing critical insights to LGBTQ youth homelessness, the report also details solutions that can help protect LGBTQ youth who are homeless now and that can prevent homelessness in the future. These solutions include:

  • Provide enhanced training across the provider community, including Medicaid providers, to identify and respond to the trauma and hardship faced by this population.
  • Engage LGBTQ youth as full partners in strengthening systems and services.
  • Encourage community organizations and systems working with runaway and homeless youth to institute more sensitive data collection about sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Add or revise guidance in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Block Grant on how these resources can better support LGBTQ and minority LGBTQ youth.
  • Evaluate the most promising programs and interventions to determine their effectiveness for LGBTQ youth. The federal government can take the lead by providing evaluation funding for core interventions.

“One critical insight we’ve gained from this study is that LGBTQ youth won’t use services they don’t trust,” said Matthew Morton, research fellow at Chapin Hall, who oversaw the study. “The reputation of providers matters, and that reputation has to be earned. Safe and affirming systems and services are critical to helping LGBTQ youth. If we don’t take action on this, we run the risk of missing out on the talents, skills and contributions of many LGBTQ youth.”

The first Voices brief on National Estimates found that one in 10 young adults, and one in 30 teens ages 13-17, experienced homelessness over a year. Upcoming briefs will explore findings on other subpopulations of youth experiencing homelessness, including pregnant and parenting youth and rural youth.