According to the True Colors Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to end homelessness amongst youth who identify as LGBT there is a silent epidemic within our community. While the numbers for homeless youth in general are shocking, with upwards of 1.6 million young people being homeless, the statistics for those who are recognized as LGBT are much more staggering.
When delving deeper into the data, more than one in four LGBT teens are thrown out of their homes, and half of teens receive a negative response from their parents when they come out. Thus, it is no wonder that being forced out and family issues are the prime reasons LGBT youth are out on the streets. The outlook only gets grimmer as further investigations detail LGBT youth as experiencing far worse physical and mental health problems, and in turn, being underserved in regards to their health needs due to a shortage of facilities.
This is not an isolated crisis. While inner cities and metropolitan areas have long been viewed as safe havens for the LGBT population, in today’s hostile political climate, this can no longer be assured. A recent study by the Homeless Youth Census in Washington DC, the capital of the United States no less, discovered that over 43 percent of the city’s homeless youth population identify as LGBT, despite expanded efforts by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. A survey by the University of Nebraska revealed many LGBT homeless youth do not frequent shelters mainly because they are either full or too embarrassed, already feeling at the end of the road whilst still only being a teenager. A study by UCLA Law revealed 46 percent of LGBT homeless youth ran away from home due to family rejection. 43 percent were forced out by parents/guardians, and 32 percent directly faced sexual, emotional, and physical abuse at home.
The aforementioned applies heavily to a state such as New Jersey, one dense in population, yet scarce in the magnitude of resources LGBT homeless teens require, many of who for obvious reasons do not have the capability to travel to or relocate to major cities such as New York, or Philadelphia. “As the most densely populated state in the nation, we can’t expect everyone in our community to take a train into Philadelphia or New York to find the care and resources they need” explains Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director of Garden State Equality, “With only one LGBT-specific homeless shelter in New Jersey, we must work harder to close the gaps of services our state provides. We are working closely with the Rain Foundation in East Orange, who operates the LGBT-specific shelter, to identify short-term and long-term solutions to closing the housing gap. In an ideal world, we will have facilities located throughout the state that are accessible by mass transportation. We are working closely with partners to see that vision through.”
Elaine Helms founded the LGBT Reaching Adolescents In Need (RAIN) Foundation in 2013, a 501(c)3 nonprofit which provides emergency shelter services to address the immediate need of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness.
“I was abused at home for being gay, and when I ultimately came out as transgender. My parents kicked me out. I went from shelter to shelter as I became traumatized from reliving the very treatment, sometimes worse, that I experienced at home.” said Tamiyah, a RAIN resident formerly of Newark. “It was difficult for me to find LGBT-friendly shelters which were not full, and the few which were available were in New York. Once I became aware of RAIN, I immediately left the shelter I was staying at. It wasn’t until RAIN that I started to progress, and finally begin to get on my own two feet.”
The supply does not match the demand, and when suicide if not the likelihood of a downward spiral resulting in a health crisis are often a direct result of not having that last resort, many organizations are now trying to avert the inevitable. Many LGBT organizations, such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), are now advocating raising the homeless youth housing age from 21-25.
Today, there are presently 4,000 youth shelter beds throughout the United States. Yet, up to 500,000 unaccompanied youths encounter homelessness annually. As with the LGBT RAIN Foundation, New Alternatives aims to increase the self-sufficiency of homeless LGBT youth by providing them with the necessary resources to enable them to move beyond the shelter system and transition into successful adults.
While RAIN and New Alternatives have witnessed significant expansion and fundraising in recent years, they are a needle in a haystack in a region where, given the population and demand, there should be much more organizations of the same, if not greater caliber.
Nevertheless, in an environment that sees the nation’s capital and country’s largest cities finally addressing a cumulative epidemic one can only hope we are now turning the tide.