LGBTQ homeless youth shelters fill critical need

Ian Sims

When I think of pride, I think of laughter and affirmation. While pride is a time to celebrate how far the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community has come, it is also a time to prioritize hardships still faced today. LGBTQ homelessness is a problem that is prevalent, yet often forgotten. Financial contributions will help alleviate homelessness within this community.

It is shocking how widespread LGBTQ homelessness is amongst adolescents. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ. However, a disproportionate 7 percent of youth identify as LGBTQ. Rejection and disownment by family members, who are supposed to be loving figures, remain the primary causes.

Acceptance in society is essential for LGBTQ youth since many have no family support system to turn to. Unfortunately this acceptance cannot be guaranteed at typical homeless shelters, many of which are run by religious organizations who sometimes show opposition to sexual minorities.

A 2016 report detailed the discrimination transgender women face in homeless shelters: Only 30 percent of shelters were willing to house transgender women with other women, while 21 percent of shelters flat out denied service. The Department of Housing & Urban Development recently ruled that federally funded homeless shelters must provide equal access to transgender people; however, not all homeless shelters are federally funded, and this measure cannot guarantee that discrimination will be eliminated across the board.

LGBTQ organizations are more equipped and trained to deal with the trauma more often faced by the LGBTQ community. Homeless LGBTQ youth have higher rates of sexual assault, substance abuse and attempted suicide than their non-LGBTQ homeless youth counterparts. Because these issues demand special care, there needs to be more LGBTQ-specific homeless outreach.

Unfortunately, there are only a handful of homeless shelters which cater specifically to LGBTQ people throughout the United States.  In Texas, the Thrive Youth Center opened up in San Antonio in 2015.  Another shelter, Tony’s Place, recently opened up in Houston after difficulties with fundraising and finding a location. It is estimated that it will cost roughly $400,000 in donations annually for the center to remain open.  While there is not a shelter in Austin, Out Youth provides much needed services and care to LGBTQ youth.

LGBTQ-specific shelters are not the only solution. An organization dedicated to ending LGBTQ youth homelessness, True Colors Fund, sends toolboxes to homeless youth programs to make them more inclusive. These toolboxes include “training materials…all gender restroom signs…suggested policies and procedures, and more!”

However, LGBTQ homeless outreach programs are in dire need of funding. Many corporations have performativity voiced their support for the LGBTQ community this year but only a handful have track records of financially supporting related causes. Local businesses, if possible, should give back to the populations who help fund them by donating needed supplies.  People without the financial ability to contribute can give their time: Many shelters and organizations are in dire need of volunteers. If all of these efforts are made, the suffering of LGBTQ homelessness will be mitigated.

Editor’s note: A broader list of resources that help LGBTQ youth throughout the nation can be found here. A list specific to Texas can be found here.

Sims is an International Relations and Global Studies sophomore.