On any given night in 2020, nearly 34,000 people under the age of 25 were homeless. LGBTQ+ youth have historically been overrepresented in this population, accounting for about 40% of the entire youth homeless population. In 2021, 28% of all LGBTQ+ youth reported having experienced homelessness or housing instability. These disturbing statistics are related to challenges faced disproportionately by LGTBQ+ youth, including lack of parental affirmation and struggles with mental health. Organizations such as NLIHC use reports and surveys to develop solutions that will lower the number of people suffering the perils of housing instability. Such research provides us with an intimate understanding of the past, present, and probable future of the housing crisis afflicting LGBTQ+ youth.
Homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth is complex and sometimes difficult to analyze. However, large-sample reports do point toward common factors or situations that can result in LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. One of the main risk factors for homelessness is the breakdown of family relationships. Lack of acceptance within a household can force LGBTQ+ youth to seek refuge elsewhere. Because people under the age of 25 are not always able to pay their own rent, they are often forced to live in cars, at the houses of friends or more distant family members, in shelters, or on the street.
An online survey conducted by the Trevor Project in late 2020 indicates that housing instability amplifies other mental health issues experienced by LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24. According to the survey, the tendency to report self-harm, anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts or attempts was as much as 27% higher for LGBTQ+ youth who had experienced housing instability as it was for their housing-secure counterparts. Homeless and LGBTQ+ populations also each experience increased rates of sexual abuse, but LGBTQ+ youth without homes experience higher rates of sexual abuse than either population taken alone: 58.7% of LGBTQ+ youth without homes reported experiencing sexual abuse while homeless.
Combatting homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth requires that supportive policies be enacted and upheld by local, state, and federal bodies. The “Fair Housing Act” protects LGBTQ+ people from housing discrimination based on their identity, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can investigate complaints that allege violations of this protection. Certain legal decisions also strengthen protections for LGTBQ+ youth who are homeless. Bostock v. Clayton Cty. (140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020)) extended Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation. Likewise, HUD’s Equal Access Rule mandates equal access to HUD programs without any regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. Housing providers funded by HUD or that utilize HUD-insured mortgages, as well as lenders originating HUD-insured mortgage loans, must follow this rule.
Research is increasingly clear that stable, affordable housing drives positive outcomes in many areas of life, but such housing is much less assured for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The data discussed in this post are a tiny sample of what exists. We hope that these important data reach policymakers who have the power to bring about positive change for members of the LGBTQ+ community.