LGBTQ+ people may be more at risk for homelessness due to discrimination, mental health conditions, and difficulties within family relationships.
Resources for food and housing, educational and employment support, and health services are available for LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness.
When searching for resources — such as a shelter — ask the organization about their experience providing care for LGBTQ+ people.
Coming out and accepting one’s sexual orientation or gender identity may be one of the most challenging times of a LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) person’s life.
The fear of not being accepted — and potentially losing friends, family, and loved ones — is often a worry that overshadows this significant moment. Many children and teenagers may fear being disowned or rejected by their families. In the U.S., it’s estimated that up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+.
In this article, we’ll discuss some reasons why the LGBTQ+ community may be more at risk of experiencing homelessness and highlight some helpful resources for LGBTQ+ people who are facing difficult situations.
Compared to non-LGBTQ+ people, there is a higher percentage of people within the LGBTQ+ community who are experiencing homelessness. People who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to face challenges that contribute to this disparity — including discrimination, higher risk for mental health conditions, and difficulties within family relationships.
Although progress for advancing LGBTQ+ equality has been made, the LGBTQ+ community still experiences discrimination and bias. Additionally, LGBTQ+ people who are homeless may face even more stigma or negative attitudes against them. Research suggests that the amount of guilt and self-blame that LGBTQ+ people experience is related to the amount of discrimination and stigma they encounter.
LGBTQ+ people may face even more discrimination if they’re also part of an ethnic or racial minority group. For example, the Black transgender community has experienced more violence and higher rates of unemployment than other groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. And 41% of Black transgender people report that they’ve been homeless at some point during their lives, which is five times the national average.
Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people also exists in healthcare. In certain cases, insurance providers have denied or limited coverage for LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV. According to a survey, about 8% of LGB respondents and almost 27% of transgender respondents reported being denied care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Discriminatory practices make it challenging for LGBTQ+ people to access affordable health care, leading to a less stable financial situation.
Stigma and discrimination can cause feelings of loneliness, isolation, and low self-esteem. These feelings can contribute to poor mental health in LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness.
There is a close relationship between homelessness and mental health. On one side, homelessness can worsen mental health. On the reverse side, certain mental health conditions can also lead a person to become homeless.
LGBTQ+ people who are homeless are at higher risk for mental health conditions compared to non-LGBTQ+ people. For example, a study found that among youth experiencing homelessness, LGB youth showed higher rates of depression (41.3% vs. 28.5%) and thoughts of suicide (73% vs. 53.2%) compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Lack of resources and social support make it difficult for LGBTQ+ people to access appropriate mental health services.
People within the LGBTQ+ community who experience homeleness may also have less social support. A potential reason for this includes rejection of sexual orientation from a friend or family member.
One of the biggest fears that LGBTQ+ youth may have is being rejected or not accepted by one’s family. Because of this, LGBTQ+ youth, especially if they’re homeless, may be more likely to have poor relationships and communication with their families. This can strain or remove an important support structure in a person’s life.
Challenges within family relationships are a leading risk factor for homelessness in LGBTQ+ people. These conflicts can result in LGBTQ+ youth being kicked out or choosing to leave home. As a result, they may no longer have the financial and social support from their families.
What’s more, LGBTQ+ youth entering foster care may continue experiencing unsafe family environments. A New York City survey found that 78% of LGBT youth ran away or were removed from their foster homes due to the hostility they experienced.
Sexual abuse may also be a reason why youth run away from their foster homes — in one study 44% of LGB teenagers experiencing homelessness reported sexual abuse by an adult caretaker.
These traumatic experiences can worsen mental health and lead to other challenges in the future. Having an unstable or unsafe family environment creates many difficulties for LGBTQ+ people that can result in homelessness.
LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness face many challenges to their mental and physical health. Unfortunately, lack of social and financial support can make it difficult to access important health services.
Being homeless can poorly affect one’s mental health, potentially leading to different mental health conditions. As previously discussed, LGBTQ+ people who are homeless have higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts.
One study identified the highest risk among people who identify as transgender (a person whose identity and gender do not correspond with their birth-assigned sex). In this study, transgender men were three times more likely to develop chronic and mental health conditions, including PTSD.
Similarly, transgender women experienced more trauma and victimization leading to a higher risk of developing PTSD. LGBTQ+ people who are homeless may experience more long-term mental health conditions if they are unable to receive appropriate care.
Poverty and homelessness can lead to risky sexual activity, including sex work or survival sex. Survival sex involves trading sex to provide for one’s survival needs, such as food. Research shows that LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness are more likely to partake in sex work compared to non-LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness.
Risky sexual activity raises the risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. LGBTQ+ people who are homeless experience a higher rate of HIV infection. It’s important to improve education and awareness for accessible STI testing within the LGBTQ+ community — especially for people experiencing homelessness.
LGBTQ+ people who are homeless are more likely to use drugs and alcohol compared to non-LGBTQ+ people who are homeless. Moreso, transgender people who are homeless have higher substance use rates than lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who are homeless. Substance use can make it difficult for people to obtain stable employment and break free from homelessness.
Homelessness creates many challenges that can result in poor health, such as:
Lack of nutritious foods
Unclean living conditions
Unfortunately, up to 73% of people experiencing homelessness report at least one unmet health need, such as not being able to obtain medical and/or mental health care, prescription medications, and dental care. LGBT people may be even less likely to obtain health care services.
For instance, transgender people experiencing homelessness may encounter barriers to obtaining adequate mental health and medical care. LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness should be connected to appropriate healthcare services to prevent further health complications.
Mental health problems are more common in LGBTQ+ people who are homeless. As discussed, studies show a higher likelihood for conditions such as depression, PTSD, and substance use. It is crucial that LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness are connected to knowledgeable and experienced mental health providers.
LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness should have appropriate access to shelters that are equipped to care for the LGBTQ+ community. Despite LGBTQ+ people making up a large part of the homeless community, shelters and service providers are sometimes not prepared to serve LGBTQ+ people. Shelters should ensure that staff members are provided with appropriate LGBTQ+ sensitivity and diversity training to prevent bias and discrimination.
Unfortunately, transgender people are occasionally denied access to shelters if they don’t have policies in place regarding gender diversity. When transgender people are admitted into shelters based on their sex assigned at birth, they may face violence and sexual assault. It may be challenging for LGBTQ+ people to find necessary services when they are experiencing homelessness.
LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness face many barriers to obtaining appropriate care and services. Luckily, various resources are available to help LGBTQ+ people who are homeless.
Below are some resources for LGBTQ+ people to use to get connected with appropriate help.
1. The Trevor Project is an organization providing support — including crisis intervention and suicide prevention — for LGBTQ+ youth under 25 years old. The Trevor Support Center is a place where LGBTQ+ youth and allies can access helpful information and explore different resources.
2. CenterLink is an international organization of LGBTQ+ centers and other organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community. They offer a directory of different LGBT community centers throughout the world.
3. Covenant House is an organization offering resources for young people experiencing homelessness and survivors of human trafficking. They have a directory of different Covenant House shelters across the nation.
4. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth is an association striving to ensure excellent education for youth experiencing homelessness. They offer different education and financial resources for homeless youth.
5. The National Coalition for the Homeless is a network of people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness, advocates, and providers who are committed to helping people who are experiencing homelessness. They offer a directory to help locate shelters and food pantries throughout the country.
8. The National Network for Youth is a network of youth who have experienced homelessness and community providers who advocate for federal support to secure resources to end youth homelessness. The network is promoting policy changes to better serve the LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness.
9. True Colors United is an organization that collaborates with communities to provide appropriate training, advocacy, and collaboration to provide innovative solutions to address youth homelessness, especially within the LGBTQ+ community.
10. New Alternatives is an organization that provides resources for LGBTQ+ people in New York who are experiencing homelessness through counseling, case management, life skills training, and opportunities for self-expression.
11. Larkin Street Youth Services is one of San Francisco’s largest nonprofit organizations to empower young people experiencing homelessness with healthcare, housing, education, and employment resources. They have various drop-in centers and emergency shelters throughout San Francisco.
13. Los Angeles LGBT Center offers a wide range of services to LGBTQ+ communities, including social services and housing, health, leadership and advocacy, and culture and education.
14. Valley Youth House introduced its Pride program in 2009, which provides housing to LGBTQ+ youth in Philadelphia. The program also offers youth support around embracing their identity and overcoming problems related to housing and homelessness.
Finding a shelter that is well-equipped to serve LGBTQ+ people is important in ensuring that you receive safe and appropriate care. After finding a center close to you, call them or look online to see if they have experience working with the LGBTQ+ community.
If you are unsure of where to start, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a Find Shelter tool to locate a nearby shelter. You can also type in “LGBTQ+” in the keyword section when searching for a shelter.
LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness face many challenges affecting their physical and mental health. Different resources are available to connect LGBTQ+ people with the appropriate care.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a guide to help LGBTQ+ people find a mental health provider who is knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ health care.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), that provides free and confidential support for people experiencing mental and/or substance use problems. They also offer useful resources to help LGBTQ+ people enroll in health insurance, such as through the Affordable Care Act.
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization that provides outreach to LGBTQ+ young people around the world through the media and educational resources. They offer a directory of different organizations that support LGBTQ+ youth.
Lambda Legal is one of the oldest national legal organizations that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, and people living with HIV. The organization has a list of resources for LGBTQ+ youth within each state.
As Harvey Milk once said, “All young people, regardless of orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
LGBTQ+ people, especially those experiencing homelessness, face many challenges to their physical, mental, and emotional health. Discrimination, poor family and social support, and lack of accessible resources create barriers to obtaining appropriate care.
There are different resources located throughout the country that are available to help LGBTQ+ people who are homeless. These organizations can offer shelter, food, educational and employment support, counseling, and health services. When looking for help, make sure to ask if the organization has experience serving the LGBTQ+ community.
The TrevorLifeline offers 24/7 support and counseling for young people who are experiencing challenging times due to their sexual orientation or identity. If you or a loved one are looking for a safe and judgment-free place to chat with a trained counselor, please call 1-866-488-7386.
For all of the LGBTQ+ youth who may be reading this right now, never doubt that you are enough, that you are beautiful, and that you are more than worthy of every ounce of happiness and love that this world has to offer. And never be afraid to ask for help.
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