Too many of our youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or questioning are without affirming, safe, and stable housing. LGBTQ youth face many fears before disclosing their identity to friends and family: Will they kick me out? Will they beat me up? Will they still love me? This wide range of emotional distress often goes unnoticed or, worse, disregarded.
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As a parent or youth healthcare provider, it is vital to start listening in earnest, permitting every moment together, every smile, to convey acceptance, safety and reassure our young people that it gets better. The fear of rejection is often palpable. The fear of being found out and suddenly without family or a home is driving many youth to the edge of anxiety, depression and self-harm. Sadly, there are too few resources available here in South Florida.
The number of unaccompanied, homeless LGBTQ youth is ever growing, a doubling in the past decade according to national data. Trans youth specifically suffer longer periods of homelessness and greater barriers to accessing aid. Several homeless-youth surveys, from Miami to Los Angeles, identify the primary reasons for why our trans youth are increasingly becoming homeless, including 67.1 percent “forced out by parents/ran away,” 16.5 percent “family issues,” and 4.9 percent “family poverty/lack of affordable housing.”
Looking deeper into why parents are forcing out their trans youth or why our trans youth are running away becomes a complex issue. The Helping Our Miami Youth (HOMY) Collaborative, formerly known as the Youth Homelessness Initiative in Miami-Dade County, seeks to identify root causes and provide a comprehensive support network.
Adults (parents, professionals, the community at large) fail to acknowledge and support LGBTQ young people who are at risk of experiencing homelessness. Many of these youth lack healthy relationships with trustworthy adults. Even in the face of potential barriers posed by religious or personal beliefs, the reunification with family is the primary means to keeping these youth sheltered. However, reunification requires families to promptly connect with resources that can guide them through the transition.
In the event reunification is not possible, or the home is found to be unsafe, identifying and connecting these youth to appropriate safe, inclusive, and affirmative housing is optimal. The problem persists because many communities still lack accessible emergency housing, programming focused on LGBTQ homeless youth, statewide to organization-wide policies to support LGBTQ youth, or an infrastructure in which effective systematic change can be made.
The UCLA Williams Institute’s mission is to conduct rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. In the institute’s report, “Serving Our Youth 2015: The Needs and Experiences of LGBTQ Youth Experiencing Homelessness,” it documents provider-cited organizational barriers to serving LGBTQ youth.
The top five issues:
▪ Lack of funding to serve these youth.
▪ Lack of community providing affirming and inclusive shelters.
▪ Lack of access to others doing work in this area.
▪ Lack of information and training on how to address the needs of LGBTQ youth.
▪ Difficulty identifying the LGBTQ homeless youth population.
Collaboration among parents, physicians, social workers, housing agencies, care coordination agencies, community advocates and most importantly the LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness is critical to create lasting and effective systematic change. The community of service practitioners must provide a strong network to reduce the multitude of barriers to finding safe and affirming shelter. We know that among the LGBTQ youth of Miami-Dade County, 23 percent are told to leave home after they come out to their parents, 46 percent experience suicidal thoughts, and 53 percent are bullied and do not tell anyone. We know that up to 40 percent of our homeless youth population identify as LGBTQ.
Where are services currently offered in Miami-Dade County? The network is growing and permitting more rigorous internal referral so that if a parent, provider or young person seeks out one agency, they gain access to all. The Alliance for GLBTQ Youth, which provides care coordination among several other services, can be reached at 305-899-8087 or at their website, glbtqalliance.com. In addition, the pediatric providers of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine all have the training and information to be able to provide the appropriate referral for any LGBTQ youth in need.
Brandon Chatani, M.D., is a fellow in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Miami Health System and president of the board of directors of the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.