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Exploring Provider Experiences Serving LGBTQ Runaway and Homeless Youth

Photo of several teens sitting on a bench outside.By Akbar Hossain, Truman-Albright Fellow, and Seth Chamberlain, Adolescent Development Research Team Leader, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation

Research suggests that young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexuality (LGBTQ) face a disproportionate risk of homelessness. Available data on youth homelessness are limited and not nationally representative, but studies of homeless youth served by individual providers or in local areas have found that up to one-third identify themselves as LGBTQ. Several studies have also found that homeless LGBTQ youth may be more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience victimization, engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, and have poor mental health. Although these studies are not representative of the entire homeless youth population, considered together, they suggest that LGBTQ homeless youth are at high risk of poor outcomes.

In response to these indications of higher prevalence of homelessness among LGBTQ youth and potentially greater risks for those experiencing homelessness, approaches for enhancing services for LGBTQ youth in care outside of their homes have been suggested by both the government and the private sector. To better understand provider experiences serving LGBTQ Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY), the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), HHS, sponsored case studies of four agencies receiving grants from ACF’s RHY Program.

The report, Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth: Case Studies of RHY Grantees, aims to learn about programs’ strategies for identifying and serving LGBTQ RHY, the challenges programs face in understanding and addressing the needs of this population, and potential areas for future research. This report is part of the Research Development Project on Human Service Needs of LGBT Populations, which focuses on identifying data gaps to better understand the human service needs of low-income and at-risk LGBT families, children, individuals, and communities.

Select findings from the report include:

  • Staff providing direct services indicated that they consider the sexual orientation or gender identity as they create service plans for individual youth. Staff use this information to tailor some services (such as referrals for counseling) and (1) to determine housing and bathroom accommodations, (2) for assignment to case managers, and (3) in making appropriate health care referrals.
  • Opportunities to improve cultural competency in serving LGBTQ youth ranged from annual trainings on site in two agencies to occasional attendance at sessions offered at universities or conferences for staff at another agency. One agency employs an LGBTQ case manager who develops individual service plans for LGBTQ-identified youth in its housing programs. Another operates a host home program specifically for LGBTQ youth, matching these youth with LGBTQ-supportive adults who offer youth transitional housing in private homes.

This is an important step in learning about whether and how agencies serving runaway and homeless youth (RHY) implement practices to address the specific needs or circumstances of LGBTQ youth. You can learn more about the report’s findings by clicking here.

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