While LGBT youth are at in increased risk of being homeless, simply for being LGBT identified individuals, we must consider what other issues these youth are put at risk of because of their LGBT homeless status. First of all, in general, LGBT youth are more susceptible for mental health issues because of rampant homophobia and transphobia within our society and the lack of resources out there to help young LGBT people deal with the stress of discrimination. The increased rate of mental health issues can lead to an increase in issues with homelessness and employment and then these issues are further exacerbated by a youth’s homeless status. According to the Young Street Mission, LGBT homeless youth reported that services offering mental health care were not considered to be accessible or responsive to their specific needs and youth also expressed fear of being further stigmatized if they sought out mental health services. Lack of income and adequate housing can also make it difficult for young people to get access to mental health resources, since many of these resources are not covered under public health care, which can help prevent homelessness in the first place and help aid young people who are struggling with mental health issues to get off the streets and back into school or into gainful employment.
Mental health issues are also one of the major causes of death for homeless LGBT youth and homeless LGBT youth have extremely high rates of suicide. According to a study done on Toronto street youth, queer street youth have an increased rate of thoughts of suicide and attempts at suicide compared to their heterosexual and cisgendered counterparts. 70.2% of LGBT homeless youth reported that they’d had thoughts of suicide compared to only 48.5% of heterosexual respondents. Even more alarming than this is the fact that while 25% of heterosexual and cisgendered respondents reported attempting suicide where the harm done required medical attention, a whopping 87.5% of queer respondents reported that they had attempted suicide at least once… that’s well over double the rate of their non-queer counterparts. Furthermore, the increased rate of mental health issues among LGBT homeless youth leads to an increase in substance abuse which in turn aids in the increase of LGBT youth participating in prostitution which leads to an increased rate of sexually transmitted diseases among LGBT homeless youth.
The fact that LGBT homeless youth are often afraid to use shelter systems in fear of discrimination from both staff and residents leads to a disproportionate number of queer street youth living on the streets or seeking shelter through couch surfing or having sex with in exchange for shelter. The fact that queer homeless youth consider the streets to be safer than shelters leads to an increased risk for both physical, mental and sexual harassment. On top of all this, the fact that queer homeless youth are prone to turning to prostitution and becoming involved in illicit drugs and activities means that they are at greater risk for being institutionalized which further hinders their chances of finding employment and safe housing and ultimately getting off the street.
For more on LGBT youth homelessness in Toronto see Christine Wong-Chong’s report “Young, Queer, and Homeless in Toronto” available for download here