More than 1 in 4 LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness or housing instability at some point in their lives, a new report from The Trevor Project shows, including nearly half of Native/Indigenous LGBTQ youth and nearly 40 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth.
Thirty-five percent of LGBTQ youth who are homeless and 28 percent who have experienced housing instability also reported a suicide attempt in the last year, compared to 10 percent of LGBTQ youth who are not housing insecure. Homeless LGBTQ youth are also two to four times more likely to report depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
These findings, said Jonah DeChants, one of the authors of the study and a research scientist for The Trevor Project — an LGBTQ youth crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization — “paint a pretty serious picture about the need to provide better mental health services for folks who are experiencing housing instability.”
It came as no surprise to the researchers that LGBTQ youth of color and trans and nonbinary youth are disproportionately affected by homelessness and mental health issues.
“When you start adding homophobia, plus racism or transphobia, plus anti-Indigenous racism,” DeChants said, “then we again start to see that young people who are experiencing multiple forms of marginalization and oppression — those are the folks who tend to be pushed out of housing supports and experiencing homelessness.”
Experts say the pandemic has also exacerbated housing and mental health concerns. Last year more than 80 percent of LGBTQ youth reported that the pandemic has worsened their housing situations, according to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.
“Nothing repairs the damage that is typically done by being rejected by your family, your community, the culture at large,” Bill Torres, director of drop-in support services at the Ali Forney Center in New York, one of the largest LGBTQ youth homeless shelters in the U.S., said. “In regards to the impact of how Covid is affecting everyone, it just increased those issues tenfold.”
Kate Barnhart, the executive director of New Alternatives, a drop-in crisis center for homeless LGBTQ youth and people living with HIV in New York, said the hopelessness of the pandemic is driving some suicides among clients.
“We’re seeing people who’ve gotten disconnected from their medical and their mental health services,” Barnhart said. “Telehealth is fine if you’re middle class, but if you don’t have a device, or you don’t have Wi-Fi or you’re in an eight-man room at the shelter, and you don’t have the privacy to talk to your psychiatrist … that doesn’t work that well.”
Researchers note that the passage of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections and LGBTQ competent housing programs can help close the gaps in care.
Elisa Crespo, the executive director of the New Pride Agenda, an LGBTQ advocacy group, advised that increased access to employment and permanent housing can also help LGBTQ young adults who are experiencing homelessness.
“That means putting funding behind the implementation and education process of the policies that may already exist — so that not only young people understand their rights and protections, but housing providers understand as well,” Crespo said.