By Carolyn Strudwick
The young people experiencing homelessness who come to Safe Horizon’s Streework Project overwhelmingly identify as LGBTQ+. From June 1, 2020, to May 31, 2021, youth who identify as transgender and gender non-conforming increased from about 10% to 16%.
LGBTQ+ youth often become homeless because they have been forced out of homes where they experienced violence and neglect from family members. When seeking respite, LGBTQ+ homeless youth face the most challenges to obtaining a chance for permanent housing – for many reasons.
Scarcity of Shelters Dedicated to the LGBTQ+ Community
For many LGBTQ+ homeless youth, shelter options remain few and far between. The majority of homeless young people are given adult shelters as their only option for a safe place to stay. While entering a shelter for adults can be intimidating for any young person, LGBTQ+ youth face additional dangers such as fear of being outed. Once that happens, it puts young people at an even greater risk for violence from other residents. Access to stable housing is even more critical for trans youth. Homeless trans youth are often being forced into a shelter that does not match their gender identity, which poses an even greater risk of them being targeted and sexually harmed or exploited. This is especially true for youth who identify as trans women and are going through a process that requires medical care like hormone treatment or gender affirmation surgery. Access to safe medical care and housing are important in this process. With limited options and real worries about safety, young people can be forced into the streets where they often opt to take unsafe street hormones, which poses an even greater risk to their health and safety.
Lack of Shelters with Sufficient Mental Health Services
Because many LGBTQ+ youth have been forced out of their homes and abandoned by family, they experience a higher degree of behavioral health challenges. Many suffer from mental health issues as a result of the trauma they experience around their sexual orientation and gender identity. Adult shelters are often not equipped to support their care or address their mental health needs. That’s why it’s important that staff in housing programs serving LGBTQ+ homeless youth are specifically trained in addressing the developmental stages of teens and young adults.
Limited Access to Housing Vouchers
As I explained in my op-ed in the Gotham Gazette, LGBTQ+ homeless youth face a tremendous amount of red tape to obtaining housing vouchers. These vouchers are important public benefits that allow people to find their own independent housing at an affordable price. New York City’s Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) shelters and drop-in centers are specifically designated for youth and young adults ages 16-24. Yet, youth within that DYCD system aged 18-24 are not eligible to receive housing vouchers unless they move into a Department of Homeless Services (DHS) adult shelter – which would mean displacement, isolation, and often fear. These critical housing vouchers were being withheld from young people in DYCD programs rather than providing a viable solution for permanent affordable housing to these individuals.
LGBTQ+ Homeless Youth Deserve Shelter and Safe Housing
Housing is a form of safety and it’s important that we provide LGBTQ+ homeless youth easy access to it. I can’t stress how difficult it is to remember that many young homeless LGBTQ+ people have to cope with systems which are often not sensitive to or know how to respond to their unique needs. With our collective and continued advocacy, we can help NYC ensure safe housing for homeless young people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.