A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

LGBT Homeless Youth: Support Through Data Collection

Data on youth homelessness is notoriously lacking.  We need better data to understand the scale of the problem and our progress toward solving it.

Data on youth homelessness is notoriously lacking. However, we estimate that around 550,000 youth under the age of 25 are homeless and on their own at some point each year. Most of these young people will experience brief episodes of homelessness. Others will experience longer episodes of homelessness and require more significant support.

While it’s still unclear whether youth who identify as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender) experience episodes of homelessness that are substantially different than their heterosexually-identified counterparts, a preponderance of the evidence clearly indicates that LGBT youth are over-represented in the homeless youth population. A small sampling of recent community-wide surveys of homeless youth in Houston, King County, Hollywood, and Minnesota found that LGB youth ranged from 12 percent to 35 percent of the overall homeless youth populations, while transgender youth ranged from 1 percent to 7 percent of the homeless youth population.

Homeless youth require sustained support to reconnect to family and establish the skills they need to live independently and make the transition to successful adulthood. That’s why the primary solution to the problem of youth homelessness is Family Intervention, i.e. providing support to help youth reunite with their families and helping them develop stronger, healthier relationships with family members. There is clear evidence that helping youth repair their connections with family is associated with a myriad of positive and healthier outcomes for youth.

When reunification is not possible – youth need help preparing for more independent living, like longer-term housing and support services including help to foster connections to caring adults. Most of all, we need to do something about the lack of safe shelter options for young people in order to improve the safety and well-being of homeless youth. Regularly youth in need of shelter are left to fend for themselves on city streets, forcing them to stay in very precarious settings where they are vulnerable to exploitation.

A citywide survey of Los Angeles students found that LGBT youth who experienced homelessness were three times as likely to stay in the home of a stranger, and twice as likely to stay in abandoned building than their heterosexual homeless peers.

We need to develop an effective Crisis Intervention response to youth homelessness that prevents any youth from having to experience a single night on the street due to a lack of capacity. We also need better data so that we know the true scale of the problem and can measure our progress toward solving it.

sharon_mcdonald_naeh.jpgSharon McDonald is Director for Families and Youth at the National Alliance to End Homelessness where she focuses on policy and program strategies to end family and youth homelessness. Prior to joining the Alliance, Sharon was a direct service practitioner in Richmond, Virginia. She served as a social worker and program director in a seven day a week, community-based service center for people who are homeless. She has also provided and supervised social work services in a service-enriched housing program for low-income families with children. Sharon served as a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)/National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Congressional Fellow in Senator Paul D. Wellstone’s office where she focused on welfare and housing issues. Sharon holds an MSW and a Ph.D. in Social Work and Social Policy from Virginia Commonwealth University.

This blog post originally appeared on the National Alliance to End Homelessness website.

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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