By Marian O’Connor
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GBLT) people make up an estimated 20 to 40 percent of the national homeless population while composing between three and five percent of the general population, according to a report released Tuesday, Jan. 30 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
The report, which was conducted over the past two years, claims that most youths leave their homes because of familial conflict, and that GLBT youth leave their homes primarily as a result of familial conflict over their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Psychiatrist G. Ramafed conducted a study in 1987 of gay male youths and found that 50 percent of gay teens in the study experienced a negative reaction from their parents when they came out, and 26 percent were kicked out of their homes.
Jason Cianciotto, research director of Ramafed’s report, feels that this places homeless GLBT youth in an especially vulnerable situation with few places to turn.
“In the end we are talking about young people who find themselves in some of the most expensive cities in America with few resources,” Cianciotto said.
He also noted that parents are legally obligated to care for their underage children.
Although the 1987 study is dated, Cianciotto suggested that it could still help to understand the significance of the problem.
“Clearly there is a need for more research, but [the study] is striking and speaks to why so many GLBTIQ youth are presently homeless,” Cianciotto said.
According to the report, homelessness within the queer community affects mental health, promotes substance abuse, and triggers risky sexual behavior.
In a 2002 response to the increase in youth homelessness, President Bush issued an executive order to provide more funding for faith-based organizations to provide more social services.
However, there was no increase in the money allotted to transitional living programs (TLPs) and other homeless youth outreach programs that have been severely lacking funds due to the relatively unchanged amount of money they receive and an increase in homeless youth.
Roberta Sklar, director of communications at the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, sympathizes with the lack of resources offered to the GLBT homeless youth community.
“All around the country there are covenant houses,” Sklar said. “These houses have the space and the budget to deal with the growing homeless population, but they don’t have the sensitivity to deal with the GLBTIQ community.”
She went on to suggest that covenant houses—faith-based homeless houses set up to serve the growing homeless population—are receiving increased funding from the government at the same time that funds are being cut for the Runaway, Homeless and Missing Children Protection Act (RHMCPA), passed in 2003 to specifically give money to homeless youth services.
Nicholas Ray, the author of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report, suggests that the increase in funding to faith-based organizations has created a conflict of interest between organizations providing services and the homeless youth who receive them.
“If an organization’s core belief is that homosexuality is wrong, that organization, and its committed leaders and volunteers, may not respect a client’s sexual orientation or gender identity and may expose GLBT youth to discriminatory treatment,” Ray wrote in the report.
Jodi, who works for the River Street Shelter in Santa Cruz, believes that minors can be denied assistance because of custody and liability issues that shelters do not want to get involved with.
“We can’t sign for medical evaluations, which can present a problem if a youth ever needs medical attention,” Jodi said.
Cianciotto believes that part of the reason cities like Santa Cruz do not offer services to the youth is a lack of federal funding to provide smaller cities, like Santa Cruz, with adequate resources to combat some of these problems.
“The lion’s share of the funding goes to large cities because that is where most of the need is,” Cianciotto said.
He went on to suggest that in order to address this problem, and many others surrounding the rampant issue of homelessness in the GLBT youth population, major reforms in public policy are necessary.
“There need to be a lot of public policy changes,” Cianciotto said. “These need to happen so that the community as a whole can grow and flourish.”
_For more information about the report or to download a copy, visit the Gay and Lesbian Task Force web site at http://www.thetaskforce.org_