Nation should replicate Ruth Ellis Center’s efforts with homeless gay teens

By |2018-01-16T01:43:07-05:00October 31st, 2017|News|

By Jason Cianciotto

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, in collaboration with the National Coalition for the Homeless, released a national report today titled Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. ÒEpidemicÓ is a strong word to use, but in this case itÕs justified.
While approximately 3 to 5 percent of the total U.S. population identifies as gay or lesbian, our review of the available academic and professional literature found that an estimated 20 to 40 percent of the up to 1.6 million youth who run away or are homeless each year identify as LGBT. In other words, LGBT youth are grossly overrepresented in the homeless youth population.
The report goes into great detail about why LGBT youth are becoming homeless, their experiences on the streets, and the pervasive harassment and discrimination they experience at many homeless service providers. Just as important are the model service practices and policy recommendations also included in the report, which if implemented nationwide would help to curb this epidemic and truly make a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable youth.
Several weeks ago, I received what is perhaps the greatest example of the hard work ahead of us as we use this report to educate politicians, policymakers and service providers.
In anticipation of the 2008 renewal of the Runaway, Homeless and Missing Children Protection Act (RHMCPA), the primary piece of federal legislation that directs funding and programming guidelines to homeless youth service providers nationwide, the Congressional Research Service released its own report on youth homelessness in the US. Their report did not include a single mention of LGBT youth.
If CongressÕs own research arm is unwilling or unable to acknowledge this epidemic, how can we expect our elected officials to address it?
I think part of the answer lies in supporting and replicating the successful efforts of service providers and activists at the grassroots level.
For example, thereÕs the street outreach program and drop-in center developed by the Ruth Ellis Center, which predominantly serves LGBT youth of color in Detroit, and the transitional living program run by Green Chimneys in New York City, which provides safe and supportive housing for LGBT homeless youth for 18 months while preparing them for independent living. Urban Peak in Denver, Colorado has developed specific guidelines for creating a safe space for transgender homeless youth in shelters, given their unique needs and experiences.
Because most homeless youth service providers are not LGBT-specific, our report also highlights the success of Ozone House, in Ann Arbor, an organization that serves all homeless youth but has specifically striven to create an LGBT-safe space. Waltham House in Massachusetts has even developed a program that has provided LGBT cultural competency training to over 2,000 employees at the state Department of Social Services.
While the programs highlighted in our report may be the exception today, they are replicable anywhere in the country. Indeed, one of our critical aims and hopes is that service providers and social service agencies will see this report as a wake-up call to the crisis of homelessness among LGBT youth. Some may already work with this population and learn from one of our contributors about how to enrich an existing program. Others might know they need to reach out to LGBT youth but need additional guidance on how to do so.
While there is clearly more that can be done at the grassroots level, in the end it is not enough to beat this epidemic without additional funding and support at the federal level.
The presidentÕs budget is being released next Monday and Congress will begin work on the FY2008 budget and appropriations bills. The Task Force is recommending $140 million in FY2008 for the RHMCPA, a significant increase over its current $103 million allocation. But Congress needs to do more. When the law is reauthorized in 2008 it needs to specifically address the needs of LGBT homeless youth and ensure that all homeless youth services organizations receiving federal funds are trained and capable of providing safe and culturally competent services to their LGBT clients.
It is important that our allies in Congress insist that this pivotal piece of legislation accurately acknowledges and addresses the reality of youth homelessness in America Ñ nationwide, LGBT youth are grossly overrepresented in a system ill-equipped to meet their needs, and that simply must change.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.