LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in Chicago

Youth homelessness is a widespread issue in the U.S., and Illinois is no exception. There are an estimated 25,000 youth in Illinois who experience homelessness in the course of a year, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) and the Illinois Department of Human Services. Studies have found that youth who identify as LGBTQ are disproportionately represented in homeless youth populations. Approximately five percent of youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ, but 32% – 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ (Gay & Lesbian Task Force, 2007). Researchers have attributed this overrepresentation to factors such as family rejection, employment discrimination, and mental health issues cause by stigmatization and discrimination (Sadowski et al, 2009).

Youth in Chicago represent a large portion of Illinois’ homeless population. There are 15,000 youth who experience homelessness during the year in Chicago. Of those youth, approximately 3,000 are LGBTQ (Gay & Lesbian Task Force, 2007). While there is a documented need for housing for youth, there are only a total of 119 beds (temporary, transitional and permanent) in the city of Chicago, and 24 interim beds for minors (Lakeview Action Coalition, 2011). Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reports that 42 percent of youth seeking shelter from state-funded programs for homeless youth were turned away in 2000 because of a lack of resources (Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, 2001).

LGBTQ youth, particularly transgender youth, face additional challenges in securing shelter, because most facilities do not recognize transgender identity, and require that youth identify with their biological sex to obtain housing. This deters some youth from utilizing the few shelters that exist, and youth often report feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in facilities that are not gender-affirming (Sadowski et al, 2009).

Homeless youth face myriad challenges on the streets each day, including threats to physical health and safety, lack of income for sufficient food and hygiene needs, police harassment and violence, lack of access to health care and other services, lack of information and treatment of substance-dependence, and lack of access to mental health care and social support.

In addition to the general challenges that face homeless youth, LGBTQ youth often face additional barriers. These include lack of emergency housing that is gender-affirming and safe for transgender youth, discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender expression, isolation from families and communities that reject their sexual and/or gender identity, and homophobic and transphobic violence and harassment (Lakeview Action Coalition, 2011). Transitioning to independence is also particularly difficult for LGBTQ youth, as they often face discrimination in employment and housing, and often do not have the social support in place that heterosexual youth have (Diaz et al, 2001).

Even though these youth face many obstacles, they also have incredible resilience and resourcefulness. PFC aims to build on the strengths that youth have necessarily developed for survival, and utilize them in learning to live independently in stable housing.

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