CHARLOTTE — Homelessness is an incalculable epidemic. Estimates of youth homelessness range from 575,000 to approximately 2 million. Definitive numbers are difficult to get, but it is believed the LGBT community makes up approximately 20 to 30 percent of homeless youth aged 12 to 24 years old — a disproportionate amount if the LGBT community makes up anywhere from three to ten percent of the general population. Among the homeless LGBT community, African-Americans and American Indians are over-represented.
Counting LGBT homeless youth or adults is difficult, primarily because many homeless agencies do not track or report numbers on the sexual orientation or gender-identity of their clients. In late February, however, Charlotte housing officials and local homeless ministry conducted a survey to compile a “vulnerability index” in an effort to understand the problem of homelessness, and end it. The survey included questions to identify the numbers of transgender people living on the streets in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
LGBT youth are on the streets for a variety of reasons. According to a 2007 report issued by the National Alliance to End Homelessness about 25 percent of these youth leave home because of familial rejection. Many homeless people turn to prostitution or other survival techniques — exposing themselves to drug abuse, HIV infection or the possibility of being a victim of rape or a hate crime. The study said lesbians are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress syndrome, conduct disorder and alcohol and substance abuse compared to their straight counterparts. In the same study gay homeless males are less likely to meet criteria for alcohol abuse than their heterosexual homeless peers, but they were more likely to have episodes of depression or depressive disorders. Both lesbians and gay men are at a higher risk of attempting suicide when compared with their peers.
The Homelessness Resource Center suggests outreach and education to families as a means of reducing the number of LGBT youths on the street.
But when education fails, and youth are left without a home, many are unable to find reliable, consistent, safe housing due to lack of funding. Recently, national attention has been drawn to the epidemic. The Advocate reported last August that late actress Bea Arthur left $300,000 to a homeless shelter for LGBT youth in New York. A few months later singer Lady Gaga partnered with Virgin Mobile to raise awareness about youth homelessness. A 2007 New York Times article reort funding for LGBT youth programs narrowly exceeded $1 million—less than 1 percent of all funds spent on homelessness issues each year.
There are no shelters for LGBT youth in the Carolinas, although several areas provide awareness programs, education, and counseling from volunteers. Work by seasoned professionalsis simply out of the question, according to Steve Bentley, executive director of Time Out Youth (TOY) in Charlotte.
TOY receives 60 percent of its funding from fundraisers and private donations. Local companies supply the remaining 40 percent.
“Time Out Youth receives no funding from the government,” Bentley said.
The lack of funds limits what TOY is able to accomplish. Because of that lack of resources, Bentley says real family support to keep children at home and off the streets is the best option. TOY provides counseling and education for both youth and their parents. In last case, emergency scenarios, TOY also provides limited temporary, overnight housing for youth in crisis. : :
— Stay tuned to a future issue of qnotes for more on LGBT homelessness in Charlotte and across the Carolinas.
This article appears in the March 20-April 2 print edition.