We featured our first guest, Sam Littler, on our #whatsup series, a place for our community to ask those working in the field questions about youth homelessness. This month, the focus was on LGBTQ+ youth and why they experience homelessness at such disproportionate rates.
Sam is a street outreach worker for the YMCA. She’s been in her role for a little over two years and loves it. She works specifically with young people aged 12-24 experiencing homelessness, housing instability, or are at imminent risk of homelessness. Her job entails connecting young people to resources and community supports and helping them move towards a more stable future. She is specifically passionate about supporting LGBTQIA+ youth. As a queer person herself, this is a population she holds dear to her heart. Unfortunately, there is a disproportionate number of queer youth in unstable situations due to conflicts around gender identity and sexual orientation. These youth are also especially vulnerable as queer friendly resources are limited.
You can read the questions submitted and Sam’s answers below. We hope this sheds some light on this specific facet of youth homelessness!
What do you want us to know about you most?
That I don’t have a background in social work. Anyone who has a passion for the work and the people we serve can be a youth worker. And the social service world is so wonderful in the sense that people in this field seem to genuinely care about the people they work with, both as clients and colleagues.
Why are youth in the LGBTQ+ community more likely to be homeless than others?
The Voices of Youth Count reported that in the United States in 2017 the risk that LGBTQ+ youth will experience homelessness is 120% higher than that of their peers. Another study from True Colors United says that LGBTQ+ youth comprise 40% of all youth experiencing homelessness, while they are just 7 percent of the total youth population in the U.S. Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are often kicked out of their homes due to not being accepted for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Families, guardians, or caregivers often do not recognize a youth’s identity as authentic, which can be very damaging for the young person. This is another reason youth who are part of the queer community often experience homelessness, as they are running away from an unhealthy situation. These youth then do not have a network of support to lean on, and their caregivers are no longer in the picture.
What organizations that are specific to that community can we partner with for our youth?
OutFront Minnesota is one of my favorite LGBTQ+ specific organizations, but there are several in the twin cities. Many organization may not be LGBTQ+ specific, but are informed on the needs and disparities experienced by our community and provide services that are understanding of those needs. For example, The Bridge for Youth in Minneapolis has the So What If I Am? Support group for LGBTQ+ youth age 13-21; Nucleus Clinic in Coon Rapids and Teen Annex Clinic in Robbinsdale provide sexual health services to people and youth of all gender identities and sexualities with an emphasis on trauma informed care; and the YMCA outreach workers work with all youth who need support around housing and homelessness. If you want more information about LGBTQ+ friendly community resources please call the YMCA’s youth resource line at 763-493-3052.
Are there specific needs and ways we can partner better with LGBTQ+ youth to make our services more competent for that specific community-not just us but also other youth serving agencies and the community in general?
My best advice is to ask! Ask youth what they want and need! Signage can be helpful, having something posted that shows you are a LGBTQ+ safe space, or that all our welcome, can be a quiet yet effective way to help queer youth feel comfortable in your space. Asking pronouns, having more than just ‘male’ and ‘female’ gender markers on paperwork, and asking what name they wish to be referred to as can all be simple ways to be affirming to a youth’s identity. There are also a lot of resources that exist on how to be a good ally, as well as resource kits for programs. A simple google search will yield a lot of great results!
Is it more dangerous to be LGBTQ+ and homeless? Are shelters more dangerous?
Being homeless in general is often dangerous, as youth experiencing homelessness are often at high risk for chemical dependency, being trafficked, and/or assaulted. People who are LGBTQ+ often struggle to find shelters that are respectful of their gender identity, as shelters are segregated by gender. Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to be assaulted, harassed, or taken advantage of due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. According to a report by Chapin Hall in 2018 “hardship includes higher rates of assault, trauma, exchanging sex for basic needs, and early death”. It definitely adds a layer of hardship to an already dangerous situation.
Thanks for sharing Sam, and for the great work you do! Thanks to our community for engaging on this issue and asking questions for further clarification. We will continue to offer opportunities to submit questions on a variety of topics related to youth homelessness, and encourage you to submit topic suggestions if there is something that you’d like to know more about. For further reading, please check out the following websites utilized in this article. They can give even more details about how broad this issue is, and how communities, programs and individuals can respond in effective, informed ways.
For further reading, please check out the following websites that were utilized in this article.