Addressing LGBTQ+ Homelessness: Challenges, Disparities, and Promising Practices

Shaq Clarke, MSW

Director of Housing and Supportive Services
Time Out Youth

Bethany Corrigan, MPH

Director of LGBTQ+ Programs & Transcend Charlotte
Carolinas CARE Partnership

Mary Ann Priester, PhD

Senior Management Analyst
Mecklenburg County Community Support Services

In the United States, LGBTQ+ individuals experience higher rates of homelessness compared to non-LGBTQ+ individuals. This disparity is particularly pronounced among LGBTQ+ youth and LGBTQ+ people of color. Transgender individuals, in particular, face unique difficulties when seeking housing, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges further. The overrepresentation of LGBTQ+ individuals in the homeless population can be attributed to various risk factors, including family rejection and discrimination. LGBTQ+ homelessness is also associated with heightened vulnerabilities to negative outcomes. It is crucial to create safe and affirming environments where LGBTQ+ individuals can access the support they need to break the cycle of homelessness.

This blog provides an overview of LGBTQ+ homelessness, challenges and gaps in services, and the efforts of local service providers such as the CCP LGBTQ+ Life Center and Time Out Youth. It also highlights current national efforts and promising practices that provide safe and affirming care to LGBTQ+ persons experiencing homelessness.


The LGBTQ+ homeless population encompasses individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (and other sexual identity minorities) and are experiencing homelessness. The prevalence of LGBTQ+ homelessness varies based on location, population studied, and data collection methods. However, research consistently indicates that LGBTQ+ individuals are overrepresented in the homeless population compared to their proportion in the general population.

A recent study by the Williams Institute found that LGBTQ+ adults are twice as likely as the general population to have experienced homelessness in their lifetime and are more likely than cisgender/straight community members to experience homelessness as an adult for the first time. Transgender individuals are at an even greater risk of experiencing homelessness. The same study found that 8% of transgender people had experienced homelessness in the past year, compared to 3% of cisgender sexual identity minorities (e.g., LGB) and 1% of cisgender/straight persons and that 17% of LGBT people had experienced homelessness in their lifetime compared to 6% of cisgender/straight people.

Other studies conducted in the United States, indicate that LGBTQ+ youth make up a significant percentage of the homeless population. Approximately 40% of homeless youths identify as LGBTQ+, according to University of Chicago researchers. Estimates also suggest that LGBTQ+ youth represent approximately 20-40% of all homeless youth, despite comprising only 7-8% of the overall youth population.

It’s important to note that the prevalence of LGBTQ+ homelessness may be underreported due to factors such as individuals concealing their sexual orientation or gender identity for safety reasons, difficulty in data collection, and varying definitions of homelessness across studies.

Overall, while exact prevalence rates may differ depending on the location and data sources, it is clear that LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly LGBTQ+ youth, are disproportionately affected by homelessness compared to their representation in the general population.

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.

Consequences & Challenges

Compared to the general population, LGBTQ+ people experience broad disparities in physical and mental health, substance use/misuse, housing access, income, and healthcare access. In particular LGBTQ+ persons experiencing homelessness have increased risks for negative health, mental health, and substance use outcomes. These challenges are often exacerbated by the lack of access to adequate healthcare services and support networks.

LGBTQ+ individuals may face higher rates of mental health issues and substance use, which can contribute to homelessness. These challenges can be a result of societal discrimination, family rejection, or the stress associated with concealing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The LGBTQ+ homeless population experiences significant mental health disparities, with studies showing a higher risk of mental health conditions, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. LGBTQ+ youth are also more likely to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, while trans youth face increased rates of depressive symptoms and thoughts of suicide. LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness may also face higher rates of substance use. These challenges can be related to the coping mechanisms individuals employ to deal with the difficulties they face or to self-medicate for mental health issues.

Young people in the LGBTQ+ community face higher rates of family rejection, unmet medical needs, abuse, and criminalization than non-LGBTQ+ young people. These young people find themselves without a stable place to live either because a home isn’t safe, a home isn’t supportive, or a home doesn’t exist. We know that these barriers stand between LGBTQ+ youth and healthier and safe futures. Despite the progress and increasingly positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ people, a significant population of LGBTQ+ youth continues to struggle with discrimination, transphobia, homophobia, violence, and suicide. The rates of houselessness among LGBTQ+ youth, particularly LGBTQ+ youth of color, continue to rise. In addition to health and racial disparities that plague LGBTQ+ youth, transwomen of color are faced to turn to survival sex, which often results in hate crimes. The lack of access to safe and affirming services leaves many LGBTQ+ youth without a place to live their authentic selves and increases vulnerability to violence. LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness are at a higher risk of violence, including physical assault, sexual violence, and hate crimes. The lack of safe and inclusive spaces can make them targets for harassment and abuse.

LGBTQ+ persons encounter challenges in finding alternative housing due to discrimination and gaps in safety net programs. Federal programs often fail to address their specific needs, and they lack full protection against discrimination when accessing services funded by the government. Additionally, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to encounter discrimination and invalidation in emergency shelter settings, as well as in renting and purchasing real estate. The COVID-19 pandemic as well as continual legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ identity, especially transgender affirming care, has greatly exacerbated each of these risks nationwide and in Mecklenburg County.

LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness may encounter challenges in accessing appropriate support services. Shelters and service providers may not always have the necessary cultural competency or understanding of the unique needs of LGBTQ+ individuals, resulting in a lack of inclusive and affirming environments. However, there are organizations and initiatives working to provide safe spaces and tailored support for LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness.

Local Resources

Two local organizations providing safe and affirming environments where LGBTQ+ individuals can access the support and care they need are the CCP LGBTQ+ Life Center and Time Out Youth.

Carolinas CARE Partnership is a Charlotte, NC based 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1990. As the administrator for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) programs in Mecklenburg County, CCP has provided essential care, treatment and housing services in 13-counties surrounding the Charlotte, N.C. metro area for over 30 years. They are Housing First providers, which means they believe people when they tell them who they are and affirm them and support them where they are at. They have no minimum requirements and do not penalize people for their challenges.

In 2022, CCP merged with Transcend Charlotte, wrap-around social services providers for gender diverse people 18+. Together they have launched the CCP LGBTQ+ Life Center for queer communities and people living with HIV (18+) in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. HOPWA funded services are specific to community members who are living with HIV, however Case Management and all other supportive services are available to all LGBTQ+ community members 18+. They work to support people entering emergency shelter or other options. Services include:

  • HOPWA Funded housing and supportive services (people living with HIV)
  • Medical and Social Services Case Management
  • Peer Groups & Discord Platforms
  • Mental Health
  • Drop-In Hours (Summer Schedule: 7/15, 8/5 & 9/2 | 9AM-1PM)
  • Free Clothing, Groceries, Hygiene Products & Housewares)
  • Transportation support
  • HIV/Syphilis/HepC Testing (Mobile & at our Offices)
  • Substance use support/treatment & outreach/education
  • Name Change Workshops
  • Resource & Action Fairs (e.g., Mini Markets)
  • Queer Prom (18+)
  • Much More!

CCP is hopeful and excited to continually expand their programming and physical space to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ communities!

Time Out Youth provides a full spectrum of care from targeted case management services to providing effective tools to obtain housing stability for LGBTQ+ youth ages 18-24 in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Country community. The Center’s targeted case management program is designed to provide information and referral services to assist households with locating, acquiring, financing, and maintaining housing. In addition to providing a sub-set of supportive services that are aimed to empower and equip youth with employment counsel within the community, life-essential items, shower services, laundry services, and mental health, and providing food through our pantry program to those that experience food insecurity. Time Out Youth has a partnership with Second Harvest that helps us to provide food to the youth that we serve through our housing case management program. The Center also works alongside communities and partners to uplift the power of young people, especially historically marginalized young people by providing rapid re-housing funds. Time Out Youth aims to place power and resources in the hands of LGBTQ+ youth through service coordination and aftercare services. In addition to, building the core for youth through life skills modules, which include money and budgeting skills, cooking and food skills, and domestic skills—managing a home, cleanliness, hygiene, etc.

Gaps in Service

 LGBTQ+ communities are especially vulnerable to homelessness. There are currently no emergency or transitional shelter options in Mecklenburg County which are specifically tailored to the needs to LGBTQ+ communities, and transgender communities are most affected by this gap in available services. In 2021, Charlotte was named the second deadliest city in the US for trans people, and Black trans women were at the highest risk. As noted, LGBTQ+ communities face incredibly disparate levels of harassment, abuse as well as domestic and gender-based violence compared to the general population. Transgender communities, especially trans women of color, are the most vulnerable to these risks. Programs and services that do not seek to specifically serve these communities, are missing them. LGBTQ+ people are often turned away from services or denied social benefit due to their identity. Members of these communities often do not feel safe entering into services and will elect to sleep on the streets or avoid care or support all together. Accurate and consistent data are not collected to ensure that gaps are monitored and program outputs measured for impact within these communities. The CCP LGBTQ+ Life Center (including Transcend) is perhaps the only organization in Mecklenburg County (or within 100 miles) which, in addition to services for people living with HIV, focuses on housing explicitly for LGBTQ+ communities 18+ (with no other eligibility criteria). Funding this work has been incredibly difficult as standard data are scarce and not consistently collected. As Housing First providers, we believe that additional emergency, transitional and permanent housing options will decrease violence, health disparities as well as increase economic opportunities.

The Time Out Youth Center is virtually the only safe resource for housing and support in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area that exclusively supports LGBTQ+ youth. The Center seeks to change the future landscape of housing opportunities and services available to LGBTQ+ homeless youth in the South while making an important contribution to the body of knowledge on LGBTQ+ houseless youth by addressing solutions from a racial equity lens. The Center envisions a community that allows LGBTQ+ young people to be just that, but the harsh reality is that there are too few housing resources that are affordable, safe, and affirming. The gap in services directly affecting LGBTQ+ houseless youth, including a lack of resources or availability in case management services, early intervention, education/life skills programs, mentorship programs, mental health services, drop-in services, and specialized services for those affected by domestic violence, drug addiction, sex work, and criminal records. In addition to, easily accessible databases that help LGBTQ+ youth get access to permanent housing in the community.

Opportunities for Improvement

In order to provide LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color with the positive, affirming support they deserve, local service providers have highlighted the following recommendations as local and regional opportunities for improvement.

  • Increase understanding of the intersection of houselessness and LGBTQ+ identities.
  • Advance meaningful and affirming solutions to end youth houselessness and place resources directly in the hands of young people.
  • Implement mandatory training for educators, housing providers, and healthcare providers centered on the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Implement anti-bullying laws, housing laws, and school nondiscrimination Laws, and classify hate crimes.
  • Build a standardized access, assessment, and referral system that incorporate and connect all youth to safe and affirming housing, particularly LGBTQ+ youth of color.
  • Create youth-centered solutions for LGBTQ+ youth including Host Home Programs, Direct Transfer Programs, and Rapid Re-Housing.

In order to decrease disparities in housing, violence, health, socio-economic status, and more for LGBTQ+ communities 18+ providers recommend:

  • Earmarking annual county and city funds for housing, supportive service and health opportunities for members of LGBTQ+ identities with special focus on people of color.
  • Continue to refine data indicators, collection and analysis on LGBTQ+ identity and housing need, healthcare and more for coordinated entry, point in time count and more.
  • Integrate required trainings and technical assistance at the city and county level on LGBTQ+ identity and social services intersection and advanced practice to meet the needs of these communities.

Additional recommendations identified via the Voices of Youth Count Research Initiative can be found here: Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America

Recent Success

While there are a number of gaps in service and opportunities for improvement, one area in which Charlotte-Mecklenburg has made strides is to improve our ability to quantify the state and nature of LGBTQ+ homelessness locally. In 2022, CCP and Time Out Youth worked with the Continuum of Care to update Coordinated Entry intake forms and the 2023 Point in Time Count questionnaires to include indicators of LGBTQ+ identity. This was a landmark advancement in our joint efforts to better support LGBTQ+ communities and ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals are valued and affirmed. We are excited to see additional advancements take place and hopeful that changes like these will lead to more programming and funding specific to the needs of our communities.

National Efforts and Promising Practices

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognizes the increased risk of homelessness, discrimination and violence faced by LGBTQ+ communities. To that end, steps have been taken to remove barriers to stable housing, and put in place protections, for LGBTQ communities. This includes the Fair Housing Act and HUD Equal Access Rule. In Mecklenburg County for example, anyone seeking support from a HUD funded shelter is expected to be housed in rooms or dormitories that affirm that person’s stated gender.

Providers, landowners and community members may also reference the LGBTQIA Fair Housing Toolkit created to support LGBTQ+ communities against discrimination and harassment throughout rental and home ownership.

In regard to LGBTQ+ teens and young adults. HUD has launched the Initiative to Address LGBTQI+ Homelessness. HUD recognizes the high rates of illegal rejection experienced by LGBTQ individuals and aims to improve shelter environments and offer support through initiatives such as “Know Your Rights” toolkits. They are also seeking input from LGBTQ youth through listening sessions. These measures aim to remove barriers and ensure equal access to housing for LGBTQ individuals.

In addition, communities across the country are implementing programming to provide safe, supportive, and affirming shelter, outreach, and permanent supportive housing  to LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness

Prioritizing the development of safe, supportive, and inclusive environments is crucial to effectively reach and assist this vulnerable population. Service providers stress the importance of addressing a wider range of needs to help LGBTQ individuals regain stability.

So, What?

To effectively address LGBTQ homelessness, a multifaceted approach is necessary. This includes implementing anti-discrimination laws, promoting LGBTQ-inclusive housing policies, providing targeted support for at-risk youth, and replicating promising practices, and increasing funding for affordable housing programs. By combining these efforts, comprehensive solutions can be developed to address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ individuals experiencing homelessness.


Shaq Clarke is a native Canadian who has dedicated her life and career to ending houselessness among LGBTQ youth/young adults. She currently serves as the Director of Housing & Supportive Services at Time Out Youth Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Shaq runs and oversees the Housing Program at the Center. Shaq holds a master’s and bachelor’s degree in social work from Johnson C. Smith University. Shaq was a graduate of the Leaders Under 40 Class of 2018. Shaq believes in helping houseless LGBTQ youth find a home where they can build community, social connections, and memories. Shaq’s passions include youth services, building innovative community partnerships, and mental health services. Shaq was a member of the 2009 Johnson C. Smith CIAA Women’s Basketball Championship team and was a member of the Trinidad and Tobago National Women’s Basketball team. Shakira has presented at the national conference Forty To None on LGBTQ homelessness and at the NCCADV 2016 Biennial Conference for Domestic Violence on teen dating violence prevention in the LGBTQ community. Shaq was featured in Qnotes, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper, as one of the leading women trailblazers in Charlotte. Shaq was also the lead researcher for Time Out Youth’s nationally recognized “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Homeless Youth of the Carolinas Needs Assessment.” (2015). Shaq provided the framework to Centers internationally and at the state/local level to start specialized housing programs.

Bethany Corrigan, MPH (they/them) is a gender equity and social justice specialist with over 15 years in public health and nonprofit settings across 50 countries. Bethany is the Director of LGBTQ+ Programs (now including Transcend Charlotte) at Carolinas CARE Partnership where they are focused on expanding the CCP LGBTQ+ Life Center as well as housing options for LGBTQ+ communities. They are also adjunct with University of North Carolina Charlotte and Queer rights advocate in NC & SC.

Mary Ann Priester has worked with vulnerable and underserved populations, particularly individuals experiencing homelessness for 10+ years. As the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Coordinator for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care, she leads HMIS strategic planning efforts and provides data oversight, technical support, and training to community agencies. She is also the Community Data Lead for the Built for Zero initiative to end homelessness and serves as chair of the NCHMIS Governance Committee.