Can Middle Schools Help Prevent Homelessness Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Students?

A middle school student using a laptop.

Homelessness and Sexual Identity Among Middle School Students” (abstract). Eric Rice, Robin Petering, Harmony Rhoades, Anamika Barman-Adhikari, Hailey Winetrobe, and Aaron Plant. Journal of School Health, Vol. 85, No. 8 (August 2015).

What it’s about: Rice and his team wanted to know whether lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning (LGBQ) middle school students experience homelessness more commonly than their heterosexual peers. They also wanted to know whether LGBQ middle school students were more likely than their heterosexual peers to stay in a riskier place than a shelter when experiencing homelessness. The researchers used a supplemental survey to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey to delve into their questions. The supplemental survey asked about sexual identity and past-year homelessness among 10- to 15-year-olds. Transgender youths' responses could not be included in the study because the term “transgender” was inaccurately listed as a response in the question about sexual orientation (rather than gender). The sample the researchers studied included 1,185 young people. 

Why read it: Sleeping without shelter—in places like an abandoned building, a park or other outdoor place, or another public location—is dangerous for young people. Youth who don't have shelter risk experiencing physical and sexual violence, poor hygiene, sleep deprivation, and difficulty recovering from being sick, the authors of this study write. Research has shown that LGBQ high school students have higher rates of homelessness than their heterosexual peers. LGBQ high school students are also more likely to sleep away from shelter. This is one of few studies to ask whether the same is true for LGBQ middle-schoolers.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Rice and his colleagues learned the following:

LGBQ youth were about as likely as their heterosexual peers to become homeless.  Of the young people surveyed, 23.5 percent of heterosexual youth and 23.2 percent of LGBQ youth had experienced at least 1 night of homelessness in the previous year.

LGBQ youth were more than twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to stay in a public place. Of the students experiencing homelessness, 14.9 percent of heterosexual youth and 8.13 percent of LGBQ youth stayed in a shelter; 6 percent of heterosexual youth and 14.4 percent of LGBQ youth stayed overnight in a public place. The authors suggest that this might be because LGBQ fear encountering stigma and discrimination at shelters.

Rice and his colleagues note that their study is limited because it doesn't include transgender youth, a group that might experience more homelessness than other young people. The researchers also say they don’t know whether the homeless youth in this study were with their families or unaccompanied. Despite these limitations, the results can inform the work of school staff and shelter service providers to combat homeless among LGBQ middle-schoolers.

The authors encourage middle school personnel to develop procedures to identify which students are most at risk of homelessness. A public information campaign aimed at youth, they say, might increase awareness and reduce the stigma of asking for help. They also encourage shelters to take steps to accommodate the needs of LGBQ youth.

Additional references: Look for more articles about runaway and homeless youth, homeless education and LGBTQ homelessness in NCFY’s research library.

Read our NCFY Report, "Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth with Open Arms."

Learn about how you can work with schools to house and serve homeless students.

Find out youth workers' take on improving LGBTQ youths' access to services.

Does it really get better for LGBTQ teens? Read our summary of a recent study to find out.

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