A recent D.C. Department of Human Services survey found that 43 percent of the District’s 330 homeless youths identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to D.C.’s first Homeless Youth Census released Jan. 13.
The youths surveyed were living on the streets, in a housing program or without a permanent home. Ninety percent of those surveyed were black, 5.5 percent were Hispanic, 3.4 percent were multiracial or identified as other and 1 percent was white.
The District announced that Verizon Wireless will donate $45,000 in grants to two nonprofit organizations, the Wanda Alston House and Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, which assist LGBTQ youths, and that the city will award five grants of around $5,000 to organizations with similar goals. D.C.’s annual budget for homeless youth programming has been increased by $1.3 million, bringing the funding to over $5 million.
According to Assistant Director of the Georgetown LGBTQ Resource Center Julian Haas, the census is reflective of what similar studies have shown in past years. Haas affirmed that a significant factor behind youth homelessness is family rejection.
“For many it may be safer to try to survive on their own than to stay at home,” Haas wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Some do not even have the option of staying at home and are forced to leave by their family. While the numbers vary state to state, we can also see that foster care systems disproportionately fail LGBTQ youth as compared to their heterosexual peers, often forcing youth to experience homelessness.”
Assistant professor of sociology Leslie R. Hinkson expressed her astonishment that this census marked the first survey for homeless youths in D.C.
“Nonprofit organizations have been created specifically to deal with this issue of homeless youth,” Hinkson said. “This is a problem that we have had in American society for a very long time and a problem that we definitely started admitting to by the 1970s, so it’s unbelievable to me that this is the first time there would be a census of homeless youth in the District.”
Hinkson mentioned that the 330 homeless youths surveyed by the census was a fraction of the actual number of homeless youths in the District.
“Looking at this definition of ‘homeless youth’ specifically, it’s important to note that there is a larger population of homeless youth in D.C.; it’s just that they are with their families in being homeless,” Hinkson said.
Carlo Izzo (COL ’17), a leader in the D.C. Hunger and Homelessness Alternative Spring Breaks Program, also emphasized the unique problems that homeless LGBTQ youths face.
“One of the main reasons why queer youth leave is one, that they don’t feel safe in their house or that two, people are uncomfortable being themselves,” Izzo said. “It’s a lot of different intersecting issues and you can’t just isolate queer youth. Specifically, queer people do get kicked out more often and that’s why services should reflect the fact.”
Haas explained that the LGBTQ youth population experiences many different forms of oppression and stressed that when examining this issue, it is also important to take into account other marginalized identities that the youths represent.
“Many of the youth in the census were also people of color,” Haas wrote. “LGBTQ youth of color face discrimination for their sexuality, gender expression and race. These intersecting forms of oppression magnify the negativity expressed towards LGBTQ youth represented in the census and are significant factors in why these youth end up experiencing homelessness.”
Hinkson said that the grants are a positive move, emphasizing that they must be used to gain a better understanding of demographics of the homeless youth population so that its needs can be met in the most efficient way possible.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction if the vast majority of those resources are going to be used as ways to figure out who these youth are and why we have them,” Hinkson said. “What’s the underlying cause of their homelessness? Is it poverty? Is it lack of education? Is it religion? I think there are a host of factors that you need to invest money into understanding.”
Hinkson pointed to the fact that grants and budget increases need to be put towards safety measures as well as funneled into assistance programs.
“These are individuals who don’t have places to live or sleep, who, because of their youth, are very, very vulnerable. There should also be money set aside for them to have assured places to live,” Hinkson said. “I don’t think that we should make assumptions that housing LGBT youths with other homeless youths would put them in danger, but I think that we do have to be very careful about ensuring their safety.”
Haas stressed the importance of the larger D.C. community recognizing homelessness as a major issue and sharing the responsibility of aiding those in need.
“I think it is easy for us to make the population of people experiencing homelessness seem invisible, or to pass judgment,” Haas wrote. “I would encourage your readers and all D.C. residents to make themselves familiar with the resources near them for people who are experiencing homelessness and do what they can to support those resources as we work together to make D.C. a safe place for all.”
Izzo said that he believes the funding will be used efficiently but that it will not solve the problems that cause homelessness in the LGBTQ community.
“They are definitely putting money in the right places. I think that the funding though, that’s just the beginning. We also have to start working in other ways,” Izzo said. “While money is great at getting attention, I think it’s also sustained effort to talk about queer youth, that being queer is okay as a child.”
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