A Nation’s Shame: The Epidemic of Homeless LGBTQ Youth 

Seven different studies of homeless youth in the U.S. have concluded that approximately 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ. You don't have to be an experienced activist to get involved in the fight against queer youth homelessness

*Note: This article was originally published on Pride Pocket prior to merging with MyUmbrella*

The facts of the matter, laid bare by an educational document produced by The National Alliance to End Homelessness, are grim: 

  • Homeless youth are typically defined as unaccompanied youth aged 12 to 24 years. The National Alliance to End Homelessness’ typology of homeless youth includes four major categories: runaway (fleeing youth), transitory or episodic (couch surfing youth), unaccompanied homeless youth (shelter hoppers), and street dependent youth (squatters and travelers).
  • In 1999, the Second National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART II) was published. The study determined that 1.7 million adolescents experienced at least one episode of homelessness each year.
  • Seven different studies of homeless youth in the U.S. have concluded that approximately 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ. This is disproportionately high when compared to the 10 percent of LGBTQ youth in the general population.
  • Youth consistently report severe family conflict as the primary reason for their homelessness. LGBTQ youth report double the rates of sexual abuse before age 12.
  • The major reasons homeless youth cite for remaining homeless include lack of affordable housing options, incomplete education, inaccessible job market, and on-going drug use.
  • Studies indicate that once homeless, LGBTQ youth are at higher risk for victimization and suffer higher incidents of mental health problems and unsafe sexual behavior than straight homeless youth. They experience an average of 7.4 percent more acts of sexual violence toward them than their heterosexual peers and are more likely to attempt suicide (62 percent) than their heterosexual homeless peers (29 percent).
  • Discharge and emancipation from foster care is a big contributor to youth homelessness. Studies show that 12 to 36 percent of emancipated foster care youth will report being homeless at least once after discharge from care.
  • Several intervention models for homeless youth have proven effective, including early intervention and prevention services, intensive case management services coupled with shelter or drop-in centers, and youth housing models with supportive services.

What’s Being Done To Help? 

Some of the most significant efforts taken to combat queer youth homelessness involve creating ways to properly document its prevalence. For example, The Washington, DC City Council has passed legislation requiring a count of LGBTQ youths every five years, special training for staff in homeless shelters and youth services organizations, and dedicating shelter beds for the LGBTQ youth population.

Across the country, crisis response systems—primarily shelters and transitional housing—are trying to make some of these changes as well.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness offers best practices for serving LGBTQ youths in their educational materials, including extra training for staff in LGBTQ competency; developing connections to LGBTQ support groups, programs, and services (in house or through referrals); and most importantly, explicit nondiscrimination and confidentiality policies. There are a selection of service providers across the nation whose expertise is in serving LGBTQ homeless youths—such as Larkin Street in San Francisco, Alli Forney Center in New York City, the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, and Youth on Fire in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Want To Get Involved?
You don’t have to be an experienced activist to get involved in the fight against queer youth homelessness. You can donate your money, time, social platform, professional skills, and more to any of the incredible organizations that have made it their mission.

Get in on the front lines of policy and grassroots activism with Get Yr Rights. GYR has over 30 diverse network members who work with LGBTQ youth in various ways, including grassroots organizing, policy advocacy, service provision, leadership development, and more.


No matter what your skillset or interest, there is a way to make a difference for queer youth with the Trevor Project.

Build the movement to not only end homelessness among LGBTQ youth but to prevent it with the True Colors Fund.  Find your niche within their various campaigns for Advocacy, Teaching, Education, and Youth Collaboration.


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