Imagine if each bus in your city made up its own schedule, set its own routes and prices, and decided who it would – and wouldn’t – pick up. You might get to your destination, but it would be an inefficient and frustrating process. Having a coordinated community-wide transportation system makes getting around town a lot easier.
For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth experiencing homelessness, a coordinated community-wide system of services could assist in the effort to end homelessness and housing instability. This means that everyone who serves youth through social services agencies, the education system, the juvenile justice system, and the child welfare system are working together to make sure that not only is the right kind of help available, but youth are able to access the available services. Right now, most localities are just starting to develop such systems for people experiencing homelessness in general, and in some places specialized systems are being organized for youth. Three things are necessary to ensure that these systems work for LGBTQ youth. First, all programs in the system should have the competencies needed to serve LGBTQ youth. Second, there should be enough assistance for everyone. Third, the system should be easily understandable and accessible to LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ youth often face specific challenges not encountered by their non-LGBTQ peers. They may also experience discrimination in many homeless programs. A homeless system that serves their needs will ensure that its programs have competency in three key areas: programming, staff training, and organizational policies and culture.
Help must be available to every LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness who needs it. An accurate assessment of the number of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, including their particular needs, will help ensure that adequate services are made available. An accurate estimate will be necessary to ensure that there is the proper variety and scale of programs to meet the needs of all LGBTQ youth.
A key feature of homeless systems is coordinated entry. Coordinated entry is designed to ensure everyone receives appropriate help. Whether the system is only for youth, or for all people experiencing homelessness, it will have to be responsive to the particular needs of LGBTQ youth. This means that those responsible for assessment and referral must have a thorough understanding of: the particular needs of LGBTQ youth, how individual programs can meet those needs, and how to refer appropriately. In the likely event that there are more youth experiencing homelessness than can be served, the thorough intake information that is being collected through coordinated entry can be used to inform the creation of targeted programs to adequately meet the need.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a leading voice on the issue of homelessness. The Alliance analyzes policy and develops pragmatic, cost-effective policy solutions. The Alliance works collaboratively with the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to build state and local capacity, leading to stronger programs and policies that help communities achieve their goal of ending homelessness. We provide data and research to policymakers and elected officials in order to inform policy debates and educate the public and opinion leaders nationwide.
Nan Roman, President and CEO, National Alliance to End Homelessness
Mindy Mitchell, Program and Policy Analyst, National Alliance to End Homelessness
Eva Thibedeau-Graczyk, Director of Programs, Houston Coalition for the Homeless
Chart: Preventing and Ending Youth Homelessness
Graphic adapted from the US Interagency Council on Homelessness: A Coordinated Community Response
An adequate systemic response to LGBTQ youth homelessness requires a sufficient understanding of their needs and the skills necessary to meet those needs.
Best practices for providing safe, responsive, respectful, and affirming services to LGBTQ youth should be incorporated throughout the entire homelessness system.
A coordinated, community-wide homelessness system is necessary to end all forms of homelessness but especially LGBTQ homelessness.
An adequate systemic response to LGBTQ youth homelessness requires an accurate count of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.