Runaways & Throwaways: LGB Youth and Risk of Homelessness

LGBTQ youth experience homelessness at rates that are disproportionate to their heterosexual and cisgender peers. They make up an estimated 20% of the homeless youth population while they at most constitute 10% the larger population of youth. These young people often face discrimination, mental health problems, and physical and sexual abuse in their family homes. They often choose to run away from these toxic environments, or alternatively they are thrown out by unaccepting parents. Upon leaving their homes they are left to fend for themselves, at risk for drug use, compromised health, and even suicide. What can be done to better assist this community and prevent homelessness among LGBTQ youth?

Research by Margaret Rosario and colleagues at the City University of New York, published in 2012 in Children and Youth Services Review, identified risk factors associated with homelessness among LGB youth. Rosario and her colleagues compared two different populations of LGB youth: those who had experienced homelessness at some point and those who never had. They found that youth who had experienced homelessness were more likely to have experienced a same sex attraction at an earlier age, engaged in substance use, and experienced sexual abuse. They suggest these could be risk factors for LGB youth to become homeless.

The research did not include transgender or gender non-conforming youth, who likely experience homelessness at the same or even higher rates.

The implications of this study are important. They highlight the potentially challenging context that many LGB youth face in their families of origin, navigating negative reactions to early disclosure of their sexual identities and sexual abuse. They may turn to substance use to cope with these challenges, or they may be introduced to highly addictive substances once they become homeless.

Ultimately a family and community context that supports sexual diversity and educates youth about substance use will likely contribute to the prevention of homelessness among LGB youth. The identification of risk factors for homelessness offers a useful point of departure for practitioners and advocates for LGB youth to work toward health and social justice for this vulnerable population.

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