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LGBTQ+ Teens are More Likely to Experience Homelessness

November 2023 is Homeless Youth Awareness Month, during this time, we try to raise awareness about the issues facing homeless youth. In general, there are more homeless youth under 25 than there are homeless older adults. Many of these teens face homelessness due to problems at home.

According to Covenant House,

Youth homelessness is a complex issue. Each year, an estimated 4.2 million young people in the United States experience a form of homelessness.

Some youth become homeless as a part of a family, however most of them are on the street on their own. Some try couch surfing and staying with friends, some make it into shelters, but others are alone on the streets. There are many dangers that face homeless youth when they are on their own.

Certain populations of teens are more at risk for homelessness than others. According to the National Network for Youth,

  • Black youth face an 83% increased risk than their white peers.

  • Hispanic youth face a 33% increased risk.

  • LGBTQ youth were more than twice as likely to have experienced homelessness.

  • Young parents—especially unmarried—had a three times higher risk than non-parenting peers.

  • Youth with experiences of foster care, juvenile detention, jail, or prison.

  • Youth who do not complete high school are 3.5 times more likely to experience homelessness than peers who completed a high school diploma.

One of the reasons that LGBTQ+ teens are more likely to end up homeless than their peers is due to family rejection due to their sexual orientation. The lack of acceptance at home can cause these teens to either run away from home or get kicked out of the house by their parents.

If teens could find a greater degree of acceptance at home, then they wouldn't end up on the streets. To that end, here are some tips for Helping Your Child's Coming Out Experience Go Smoothly. If you are a parent of a gay teen, being sure to show them that you love and accept them is critical to their future and their well being.

Unfortunately, Covenant House reports that:

According to a groundbreaking study by Chapin Hall of the University of Chicago, LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. And, while LGBTQ+ youth make up only 7% of the total U.S. youth population, they comprise an astounding 40% of all young people experiencing homelessness in the country.

When LGBTQ+ teens are homeless, they may face additional stigma and discrimination as well. Some may suffer from trauma resulting from both their experiences with their families, and their experiences on the street. So, when they get into a shelter or other facility, they are likely to have mental health needs that have to be addressed in addition to finding a place to live.

Dangers Facing Homeless Youth

Many homeless youth face additional issues that don't necessarily apply to homeless adults. For example, they may not be able to find employment due to their age, or to rent an apartment even if they do have money. Since they don't have the support of a legal guardian, there are many services they don't have access to.

According to Do Something, some of the issues facing homeless youth include:

  • According to HUD's 2014 Point-in-Time Report, 34% of the total homeless population is under 24.[1]

  • Some homeless children and youth are with their families. In 2014, however, 45,205 were unaccompanied.

  • About 80% of homeless youth (aged 12-21) use drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate to deal with the traumatic experiences and abuse they face.[3]

  • The Department of Justice estimates that every year, over 1.7 million teens experience homelessness in the US.

  • According to estimates by the Urban Institute, nearly 1 in 5 youths under the age of 18 will run away at least once.[5]

  • Approximately 40% of homeless teens identify as LGBT.[6]

  • Family rejection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was the most frequently cited factor contributing to LGBT homelessness (46%).[7]

  • Over 50% of young people in shelters and on the streets report that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving and didn't care.[8]

  • A 2002 report on sexual abuse among adolescent runaways, prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 21-40% of homeless youth had been sexually abused compared to 1-3% of the general youth population.[9]

  • Of youth who run away, 41% have been abandoned by their parents for at least 24 hours and 43% have been beaten by a caretaker.[10]

  • HIV rates for homeless people are 3 to 9 times higher than reported rates for comparative samples in the US. A study across four cities found a prevalence of 2.3% for homeless youth under 25.[11]

It is sad to realize that at least half of these teens left home because their parents were apathetic towards them, and either forced them to leave, or didn't care when they did. Due to these issues, many of these teens don't have going back home as an option, so we need to provide a higher degree of social support for them on a societal level.

When teens have left home due to rejection at home, they often have difficulty trusting adults due to these negative experiences. For this reason, it is important to let them know that if they call any of these resources for support, the information is confidential and they aren't required to contact their parents. Services can be made available to them independently.

Resources for LGBTQ+ Homeless Youth

If you are a homeless teen, or know a teen who is suffering from homelessness, there are many resources available for them to find a shelter who is sensitive to their needs.

Both Covenant House and The Trevor Project have resources available to help homeless teens. They have counselors available, as well as career services to help teens find jobs. With these additional services in addition to housing, these organizations make a difference in the lives of the teens they serve.

Teens can also call National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY for advice, support and referrals to services in their area.

Get Involved

If you would like to help support the work of outreach to or providing services for homeless and runaway teens, many of the organizations are looking for volunteers in the local community.

Also, November 28th is Giving Tuesday, and this would make a perfect time to donate to support the cause of homeless teens.

You can make a huge impact in the lives of these teens by getting involved. Having an adult that they can trust can make a big impact in their lives and improve their mental health and other outcomes.


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