Factors Driving LGBTQ+ Homelessness
The increased risk of homelessness among LGBTQ+ persons is often directly linked to their sexual orientation or gender identity. While each person’s circumstances and characteristics are unique, there are several risk factors that contribute to the higher rates of homelessness among LGBTQ+ individuals. It’s important to recognize that these characteristics are not definitive or applicable to every individual within the LGBTQ+ homeless population. Each person’s experience is shaped by various factors, and their needs and circumstances should be addressed on an individual basis to provide the most effective support.
Risk factors can vary in intensity and combination for each person and include:
Family Rejection & Abuse: Family rejection, often due to a lack of acceptance of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is a significant risk factor for LGBTQ+ homelessness. Conflicts with family members about their sexual orientation or gender identity drive approximately 25 to 40 percent of LGBTQ+ homeless youth from their familial homes, according to the California Homeless Youth Project and the LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey. These individuals often have no choice but to leave their homes to escape hostile or unsupportive environments. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse also plays a significant role in LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. Although it can be challenging to ascertain the direct link to gender identity or sexual orientation, a significant portion of LGBTQ+ individuals have experienced some form of abuse. Survey data from The Recovery Village indicates that among respondents who experienced homelessness, 53% faced emotional abuse, 38% experienced physical abuse, and 30% endured sexual abuse at the hands of family members.
Judicial Discrimination: LGBTQ+ youth often end up in the juvenile justice system due to familial rejection or abuse. Despite representing less than 7% of the overall youth population, they make up approximately 20% of the juvenile justice system population. LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately convicted of crimes that lead to them being labeled as sex offenders, even when the offenses are age-appropriate and consensual. They face prosecution for consensual sexual activity more frequently than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. These convictions hinder employment prospects necessary for stable housing and make it challenging to find approved housing, even with the financial means to pay for it.
Lack of Support Systems: Support systems are crucial in preventing homelessness. LGBTQ+ individuals who lack supportive families or social networks may have fewer resources to rely on during times of crisis, making them more vulnerable to homelessness.
Youth: LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in the homeless population. Estimates suggest that LGBTQ+ youth make up a significant proportion of the overall homeless youth population. They are at a heightened risk of homelessness, experiencing higher rates of family rejection, physical assaults, sexual exploitation, trauma, and mental health and substance use disorders. They may also be more vulnerable due to their age, lack of resources, and limited support networks. According to data from the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Policy Research Institute, LGBTQ+ youth who experience homelessness also encounter higher levels of adversity, including engaging in survival sex and being physically harmed more frequently than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. This vulnerable group also faces risks such as violence in the streets and shelter systems.
Discrimination & Intersectionality: LGBTQ+ individuals frequently face discrimination and stigma in various aspects of their lives, including housing, employment, and healthcare. These forms of discrimination can limit access to stable housing, job opportunities, and supportive services, increasing the risk of homelessness. The intersection of LGBTQ+ identities with other marginalized identities, such as race, ethnicity, disability, or immigration status, can compound the risk of homelessness. Multiple forms of discrimination and systemic barriers can further limit access to safe and stable housing.
Economic Insecurity: LGBTQ+ individuals often experience economic disparities, such as wage gaps and higher rates of unemployment or underemployment. Limited financial resources and lack of access to affordable housing options can increase the risk of homelessness.
Lack of Legal Protections: Insufficient legal protections and anti-discrimination laws in many regions can leave LGBTQ+ individuals vulnerable to housing discrimination. This can include landlords refusing to rent to LGBTQ+ tenants or evicting them based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
These drivers highlight the urgent need to address family rejection, abuse, and discrimination within the systems that LGBTQ+ individuals navigate. By providing support, acceptance, and inclusive policies, we can help reduce LGBTQ+ homelessness and its devastating consequences.