Stella Maxwell
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The Staggering Number of LGBTQ Homeless Youth Demands Action

Homeless youth

As people across the Southland celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month, the results of Los Angeles’s most recent Homeless Count came in, showing a 12 percent increase in the county’s homeless population over the past year and a 16 percent spike in the city of Los Angeles. These are numbers that none of us can feel pride in.

Homelessness is the biggest social crisis in Southern California today. The homeless population spans the spectrum of age, gender, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation and expression. But among nearly 9,000 young people under the age of 24 experiencing homelessness, a staggering 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, according to the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

An April 2018 University of Chicago policy institute study found that, across the United States, LGBTQ youth are at more than double the risk of homelessness compared to their non-LGBTQ peers. More than half of all homeless LGBTQ people end up on the streets before they are old enough to vote and about a quarter before even turning 16.

This unfortunate reality highlights the challenges that LGBTQ youth too often face, even in big cities like Los Angeles. The University of Chicago study found that 64 percent of LGBTQ homeless youth left home because they experienced bigotry within their own families. Most also faced discrimination among their peers and were physically assaulted or experienced trauma because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Neglect, substance abuse, mental illness and lack of affordable housing were among other reasons for homelessness.

There is a deep inequity rooted in race as well. African-Americans are significantly more likely to experience homelessness — and that’s especially true for African-American LGBTQ youth. Historic and ongoing racism continues to play out on our streets.

How can we turn things around? As we build housing and expand services to combat the general problem of homelessness, attention must be paid to the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ youth — especially LGBTQ youth of color. While L.A. has more services and safe and affirming places for LGBTQ youth than most any other city, the needs are greater here too. And given how spread out are region is, finding these resources isn’t often easy for many LGBTQ young people.

To connect the dots, my office partnered with L.A. LGBT Youth Advocates Coalition and created an online LGBTQ Resource Map. The map, located at LAController.org/lgbtqresourcemap, spotlights more than 100 organizations in the greater L.A. area that provide housing, health resources, education programs, scholarships, legal services, nutrition assistance and more to LGBTQ youth. A map alone will not end homelessness, but it can help young people find service providers they trust, as we all seek to prevent homelessness and help those in need build and rebuild their lives.

Ron Galperin is the city controller and the first openly LGBTQ citywide elected official in Los Angeles.

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