By Anya Milton, Youth Engagement Manager, Northwest Youth Services

Recommendations on Serving LGBTQ Youth Experiencing Homelessness

A recent study by Northwest Youth Services reveals youth homelessness disproportionately impacts Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth. On June 3rd, 2014 NWYS conducted the first Point in Time (PIT) Count that sought to define a base number of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness or unstable housing in rural communities. According to the UCLA School of Law study, nationally 3-5% of youth are living on the streets, of that percentage 40% identify as LGBTQ. In Whatcom County we found that 24% of the youth encountered during the PIT count identified as LGBTQ.  Along with the stressors that come with homelessness, homeless LGBTQ youth also have to face the social stigma around their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, further increasing their risk of mitigating mental health issues.

More efforts need to be focused on addressing the core issues that are causing youth homelessness, especially for those facing adversity based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The Queer Youth Project (QYP) is here to bridge the gap in services for at-risk, homeless, and runaway youth that identify as LGBTQ.

During a focus group interview with youth who identify as LGBTQ, one participant spoke about the lack of LGBTQ services being a huge barrier to youth who already feel isolated, “Nothing really exists and isolation is one of the most consuming and worst things ever.” Another participant was told by their therapist they “should not come out because people are going to beat [them] up.” Similar fears of labeling and objectification are echoed by many LGBTQ youth.

The QYP has studied the national best practices for working with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, gathered the youth voice, collected and evaluated local data, and developed an implementation plan to serve LGBTQ homeless youth. What we discovered is that our community can provide a more effective response to the tragedy of youth homelessness and the disproportionate LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.  Young people deserve to know they are valued as human beings with unique and wonderful gifts. The well-being and safety of young people can be ensured through the improved competency of our community.

The QYP is a rejuvenated program at Northwest Youth Services designed to create sustainable community connections and identify and meet the specific needs of homeless, runaway, and at-risk LGBTQ youth in Whatcom County. This will result in the reduction of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness and increase the safety for those who remain on the streets.

To view the full Recommendations Report for Serving Rural LGBTQ Youth Experiencing Homelessness in Whatcom County, go to http://www.nwys.org/community-collaborations/.