LGBTQ Homeless Youth at Risk, Part 1 of 3

image1Homeless youth, sometimes referred to as “unaccompanied” youth, are individuals under the age of 18 who lack parental, foster, or institutional care. Youth become homeless for a variety of reasons, but rarely by choice. Factors contributing to youth homelessness include family dysfunction, sexual abuse, “aging out” of the foster care system, exiting the juvenile justice system, and economic hardship. According to data from The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, close to 1.7 million youth are homeless because they either ran away from home or were kicked out of their home.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence cites the primary cause of youth homelessness as family dysfunction in the form of parental neglect, physical or sexual abuse, family substance abuse and family violence. Furthermore, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that twenty-five percent of former foster youth became homeless within four years of exiting care.

Data from the Williams Institute indicates that between twenty and forty percent of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBTQ. Forty-three percent of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of street outreach clients identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBTQ. In short, LGBTQ youth make up a large percentage of the overall homeless youth population.

The roots of LGBTQ youth homelessness are similar to their non-LGBTQ peers. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, et al., report that the most common factor contributing to LGBTQ homelessness is family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Similarly, the second most common factor is being forced out by parents or caretakers after coming out. At school LGBTQ students often face harassment–both physical and verbal–which leads to high dropout rates and a greater risk of chronic homelessness. Gay and transgender students are two-times less likely to finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average; seventy-five percent of LGBTQ homeless youth drop out before completing high school.

Generally, homeless youth are at greater risk of psychological and physical trauma. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that 61.8% of homeless youth report depression, 71.7% report experiencing major trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, and 79.5% experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a month. Homeless youth are already a vulnerable population, but for the twenty to forty percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning), the situation is even more dire.

Once homeless, LGBTQ youth report a greater risk of victimization as a result of physical and emotional violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Unaware of the biological complexity of sex and gender, many people discriminate against transgender people on the basis of ethnic, religious and cultural values. Transgender youth face the most extreme threats to their safety due to a lack of acceptance. Additionally:

  • Eighty-six percent of LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation
  • Forty-four percent of LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation
  • Twenty-two percent of LGBTQ  students reported having been physically attacked in school
  • Sixty percent of the students who were physically attacked in school said they did not report the incidents because they thought no one would care
  • Thirty-one percent of LGBTQ students who did report incidents of harassment and violence at school to staff claim they received no response

All too often, the service organizations that serve homeless youth fall woefully short of supporting LGBTQ homeless youth. Exacerbated by family dysfunction and high drop out rates, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately homeless due to overt discrimination when seeking alternative housing. Reports of widespread discrimination in federally funded institutions are often cited as a major contributing factor to the recent epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Overt discrimination is not unheard of: in some instances signs are posted barring transgender homeless youth from accessing services, or they are kicked out of shelters when their transgender identity is discovered.

There are currently no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth, and there are no protections in place to keep gay and transgender youth from being discriminated against while accessing federally funded homeless services. The Obama administration is aware of and making an effort to respond to the growing rates of LGBTQ youth homelessness, but there is a chasm between program recommendations and program implementation.

[This article is part 1 in a series of 3 articles on LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 1 identifies origins and challenges for LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 2 identifies federal, state, and local initiatives aimed at LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 3 summarizes best practices and offers a state & local approach based on best practices.]

ABA Resolution Seeks to Prevent Foster Kids Becoming Homeless

The ABA House of Delegates met last Monday, February 10, 2014, at the Midyear Meeting in Chicago, Illinois to debate and vote on a wide range of public policy issues.

One Resolution on the table, which was submitted by the Commission on Youth at Risk, “urges governments to enact and implement legislation and policies which prohibit youth from transitioning from foster care to a status of homelessness, or where a former foster youth will lack a permanent connection to a supportive adult.” This Resolution, Resolution 109A, was adopted.

The Resolution says governments and courts should provide support for housing assistance for children who turn 18 while in foster care and that dependency cases should not be dismissed until a Court finds that the child has (1) housing, (2) a permanent connection with at least one supportive adult, and for youths with disabilities, (3) a transition to adult systems that provide health care and other support.

The Resolution cited a report that followed over 700 children who had been in the foster care system in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. 36% of the former foster care children reported at least one instance of homelessness by the age of 26. The Resolution explained that “further action is needed to help former foster youth find safe and secure housing and avoid homelessness,” suggesting that Courts “simply forbid a child leaving foster care from becoming immediately homeless.”

In support of the second requirement (that the Court find the child has a permanent connection with at least one supportive adult), the Resolution explains that, “youth need stable and caring relationships with committed adults in order to transition smoothly into adulthood and avoid negative outcomes like poverty and unemployment.” In 2009, 80% of eighteen-year-olds who aged out of foster care through emancipation had no permanent family to turn to.

As it relates to the disabled youth in foster care, the Resolution argues that states “pay special attention to the transition needs of youth with disabilities because youth with disabilities are over-represented in the child welfare system and are at greater risk for poorer outcomes than their non-disabled system-involved peers.” Special transition planning requirements must be put in place because the successful transition of youth with disabilities requires accessing benefits, services, and supports in adult systems that operate by rules and eligibility criteria very different than the child serving systems.  Many of these services and supports have long waiting lists, are not entitlements, and require careful and early planning to ensure that the youth can access them upon discharge.  In addition, because many of these youth cannot rely on a parent or caregiver to help them navigate this complicated transition, clear requirements and procedures for transition planning for these youth is essential to their health and well-being.

homeless

Sunday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Michigan appeals court rules that juveniles serving mandatory life for murder won’t be freed, Detroit Free Press, Michigan

The Michigan appeals court has ruled a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that ends mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder will not apply retroactively to teens already found guilty who have exhausted their direct appeals. That means 358 Michigan prisoners serving mandatory life sentences without parole for murders committed when they were under 18 will remain behind bars. Michigan ranks second in the country in terms of juvenile lifers…

Elementary Schoolers’ Arrests In Florida Alarm Justice Officials , The Huffington Post, The Orlando Sentinel, Florida

The spate of arrests, which includes at least nine felony charges, has alarmed Orange County’s juvenile-justice community and prompted a judge to meet with the school’s principal.
It is “ridiculous” to criminalize students for behavior that is tied to their disabilities, said Olga Telleria-Khoudmi, juvenile-division chief for the Orange/Osceola Public Defender’s Office.

Preventing the Tragedy of LGBT Youth Homelessness, Juvenile Justice Blog

One of the largest populations of homeless youth is composed of LGBT teens who have come out to their families and are then disowned and forced to leave. While 1.7 million adolescents experience at least one episode of homelessness a year, between 20-to-40 percent of that population identify as LGBT.