Primary Sources: Preventing and Responding to Homelessness Among Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth

A young person standing in front of a graffiti fence.

"Risk factors for homelessness among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: A developmental milestone approach" (abstract), Children and Youth Services Review, 2012.

What it’s about: This study tries to dissect the reasons many lesbian, gay and bisexual youth become homeless. Researchers compared the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual 14- to 21-year-olds who had run away or been homeless with those of peers who had not by looking at the timing of developmental milestones. For example, researchers asked when youth had realized their sexual identities, what age they experienced puberty, and what age they first experienced sexual abuse, homelessness or substance abuse, if at all.

Why read it: Prior research suggests that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth make up a disproportionate percentage of homeless youth. By beginning to figure out why some lesbian, gay and bisexual youth become homeless while others do not, we may gain a better understanding of how to prevent homelessness among this group of young people.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: On average, runaway and throwaway youth recognized their sexual identity a full year earlier than their non-homeless peers, although they weren’t necessarily more likely to have come out to another person. This finding suggests that young people's negative reactions to their own unfolding sexual orientation may contribute to their homelessness, the researchers say. If so, local campaigns that sensitize parents to the challenges lesbian, gay and bisexual youth face and underscore the importance of a secure and supportive home environment may be helpful.

Marginally more homeless youth reported being sexually abused before the age of thirteen than did their peers. The researchers recommend that youth workers should make counseling services available to lesbian, gay and bisexual homeless youth who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Runaway and throwaway lesbian, gay and bisexual youth also started drinking and using drugs at an earlier age than did their non-homeless peers. Because the young people's substance use typically occurred when they were homeless, or shortly thereafter, the researchers conclude that substance use may be  a consequence, rather than a cause, of homelessness among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. The researchers recommend that substance abuse prevention and treatment programs be a part of programs that serve homeless lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.

Additional references: For more information on the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth affected by homelessness, see this report from the Center for American Progress. For more online resources about how to help LGBTQ youth, see this page on the Safe Schools Coalition website.

You might also want to read NCFY's articles about research on LGBTQ youth's ability to get services and ways to serve LGBTQ youth with respect.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the

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