Preventing and Ending LGBTQ Youth Homelessness: HUD Issues Historic Guidance
In each of our cities and towns, every night, there are young people who face the unimaginable risk of exploitation, of abuse, of countless traumas that threaten not only their immediate health and well-being but that can inflict long-term damage. And the up-to 40 percent of youth who experience homelessness who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) are at an even greater risk for depression, physical abuse, suicide, and substance use. Tragically, these atrocities aren’t confined to the streets; the majority of youth who identify as LGBTQ report harassment, physical abuse, or sexual assault when trying to access homeless shelters and services. In a recent study, the Urban Institute found that many LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness engage in ‘survival sex’ in order to have a roof over their heads or obtain food to eat, rather than risk potential violence or abuse they might face in a shelter. We must do better for our young people.
Our partners have taken action to make accessing critical services safer and more accommodating to the needs of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. While addressing the 2015 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness last week, HUD Secretary Julián Castro announced historic guidance for providing services for transgender persons in single-sex emergency shelters and other facilities. The guidance was issued under the Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Rule (Equal Access Rule) to better serve transgender individuals seeking access to homeless services. The Equal Access Rule was issued in 2012 and ensures HUD-funded programs are open to eligible individuals regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the Equal Access Rule’s new guidance, a single sex shelter must consider a transgender person’s own views with respect to personal health and safety. The guidance also issues clarity to providers on how to address privacy and safety concerns within a facility in ways that do not segregate or isolate transgender individuals.
This historic guidance comes on the heels of the launch of the LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative, an innovative, first-of-its-kind effort to identify successful strategies to ensure that no young person is left without a home because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A key goal of the initiative is to develop replicable strategies to prevent and end homelessness among LGBTQ youth. These strategies will inform Federal efforts to provide guidance and assistance on preventing and ending LGBTQ youth homelessness to communities throughout the nation. The initiative is sponsored by HUD and the True Colors Fund with support from USICH and other partners and has been in the planning stages since 2013. The pilot initiative is now being implemented in two communities: Harris County, TX and Hamilton County, OH.
With the pilot programs in Texas and Ohio, and guidance for homeless services, the Obama Administration is furthering its commitment to ensure equality and equal access to services for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. USICH proudly supports these efforts and continues to work towards ending LGBTQ youth homelessness. We hope this guidance will inspire and move everyone towards greater acceptance and urgency in meeting the unique needs of young people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.
Diane Kean is a Communications Specialist and Mary Owens is a Program Assistant for USICH, both based in Washington, DC.