Homeless LGBT youth fare worse than straights

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Homeless youth

A recent report found that 25 percent of homeless LGBT youth had been asked to leave home, compared with 15 percent of non-LGBT homeless youth. – Photo: Dan Zaitz

Homeless LGBT youth remain homeless longer than their straight counterparts and are far more likely to live on the streets, in a vacant building, in a public facility (such as a bus station or a library) or with a stranger. They also are less likely to secure a living arrangement with a relative or legal guardian.

These are among the many findings of “State of Youth Homelessness,” a study prepared by researchers at the Center for Urban Initiatives and Research at UW-Milwaukee.

Details of the report – and the research behind it – were presented at a public meeting Feb. 24 at Renaissance Place, 1451 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. The meeting brought together representatives from social service agencies and concerned citizens to begin the process of addressing a problem that appears to be growing as more LGBT people come out at younger ages.

Since the homeless LGBT youth report was released several weeks ago, it has gained attention across a broad spectrum of media. The Cream City Foundation, which launched the project, has also disseminated the report to elected officials

Advocates of LGBT rights hope the report will put the issue on the radar screen of officials creating a 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness in Milwaukee. They also hope it will encourage agencies dealing with youth homelessness to ask questions about their clients’ sexual orientation and to implement sensitivity training for their front-line workers.

“There’s a huge crowd of homophobia in the child welfare system,” said Jane Ottow, coordinator of the LGBTQ Youth Program at Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin, at the Feb. 24 meeting.

UW-M researcher Scott Davis stressed that the report is not statistically definitive, due to a low response rate and other factors. “Homeless counts are enormously difficult to do,” he said, adding that counting homeless LGBT youth was probably “three times more difficult.”

The data, which was collected from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1, 2009, focused on youth ages 18 to 24. Researchers asked agencies providing services to homeless youth to ask about their clients’ sexual orientation during all in-take interviews in that period.

Researchers approached 16 agencies, but only seven agreed to participate. Some agencies felt that asking about sexual orientation would alienate clients, while others insisted they treat all of their clients – gay or straight – with sensitivity.

Davis cautioned that “results can’t be generalized beyond this small group of agencies.” But the report’s conclusion that 23 percent of the homeless youth on the streets of Milwaukee on any given night are LGBT is within the 20-40 percent range reported in a more comprehensive national study.

Cream City Foundation plans to continue working with UW-M researchers over the next two years to expand the study.

Researchers discovered that homeless LGBT youth fare worse than homeless straight youth. Participants in the Feb. 24 meeting blamed disparities on societal homophobia.

Disparities include:

  • 25 percent of LGBT youth said they were asked to leave home, compared with 15 percent of non-LGBT youth.
  • 51 percent of LGBT youth reported living either on the street or in a public facility, compared with 6 percent of non-LGBT youth.
  • 11 percent of LGBT youth suffered from mental illness, compared with 1 percent of non-LGBT youth.
  • 8 percent of LGBT youth reported substance abuse problems, compared with 1 percent of non-LGBT youth.
  • 39 percent of LGBT youth had lived with a relative or legal guardian, compared with 64 percent of non-LGBT youth.
  • 21 percent of LGBT youth had lived with someone they did “not know well,” compared with 3 percent of non-LGBT youth
  • 15 percent of LGBT youth reported being homeless for more than six months but less than one year, compared with 3 percent of non-LGBT youth.
  • 19 percent of LGBT youth said they’d lost their jobs or could not find work compared with 9 percent of non-LGBT youth.


0 2 Christine 2013-04-07 20:53
This is so frustrating...one of the reasons my wife and I became foster parents is to foster queer youth. Yet, social workers are not giving us referrals for queer youth...we did get one, but the child was not given to us. There are people like us who WANT these kids, and can't seem to get them.
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0 1 Sassafras Lowrey 2010-03-12 10:46
Thank you so much for your coverage of this important issue. As a formerly homeless queer youth, and now as an adult dedicated to raising awareness about the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness I applaud you for bringing attention to this often forgotten issue.

Sassafras Lowrey
Editor Kicked Out anthology
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