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.