LGBTQ teens and adults make up a disproportionate number of homeless Minnesotans.
That’s according to a new report by Wilder Research showing that LGBTQ people make up 11% of the homeless population and nearly a quarter of all homeless youth even though about 4% of all Minnesotans identify as LGBT.
Advocates say the report, released this week with 2018 data, shows there’s a gap in resources in Minnesota. It’s Wilder’s first in-depth examination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer homeless population.
“There’s a huge lack of services for LBGTQ youth,” said CeMarr Peterson, who works for the Minneapolis-based nonprofit the Link.
She knows firsthand. She had a supportive family after she came out but after growing up in poverty, she found herself bouncing from friends’ and family members’ couches as a teen, without a permanent place to live.
“Discrimination and oppression ... is the root of it all,” said Peterson, who is African American and now 32 with more than a decade of experience in nonprofits, helping others in need. “Poverty really puts some high barriers on people.”
Homelessness in Minnesota reached a record high in 2018, with 10,233 people without a home, according to Wilder Research, an arm of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul.
Homeless encampments have grown since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but there’s no current count of homeless people across the state, said Michelle Decker Gerrard, senior research manager at Wilder Research, which does the statewide study every three years. The next one is in October 2021.
“We’re concerned about the entire homeless population and how they’re faring right now considering the economic crisis and that we’re going into winter and we have this horrible pandemic,” Gerrard said.
No ‘simple problem’
The LGBTQ homeless population faces higher rates of trauma and violence than other segments of the homeless population. Three-fourths of LGBTQ homeless youth under the age of 20 said they became homeless after fights with parents or guardians, with nearly a third saying there was a lack of tolerance for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Family rejection or lack of acceptance is just one aspect of homelessness for LGBTQ youth, though, said Ryan Berg, program manager of ConneQT at Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minneapolis, which gives LGBT homeless youth a place to stay at host homes.
“That’s a painful and hurtful and real reality for folks. but that’s not the whole story,” Berg said. “We also have to look at the other aspects.”
Almost all LGBTQ homeless youth had at least one adverse childhood experience such as witnessing a family member’s abuse or having a parent or guardian with mental health problems. Gerrard said researchers are also concerned about the higher rates of violence and abuse LGBTQ homeless people experience than the overall homeless population.
“The theme among these folks is just that they’ve had such a difficult time because of a lot of external factors ... it wasn’t just one simple problem, it was a lot of different compounding factors,” she said.
The percentage of homeless youth and adults identifying as LGBTQ has grown — from 7% in 2009 to 11% in 2018 — but Gerrard said that doesn’t mean the number of LGBTQ youth and adults is increasing but rather that researchers are better at respectfully asking the question or people are more comfortable disclosing that information. Six in 10 respondents had been homeless for at least a year.
Just like with the general homeless population, people of color are overrepresented among LGBTQ homeless youth and adults; two-thirds are African American, Native American, Hispanic, multiracial or Asian. Wilder researchers found that homeless LGBTQ people of color were even more likely to be turned away from a shelter because it was full and more likely to spend the night on buses, trains and other public transit than their white counterparts.
The report by Wilder Research confirms what nonprofit leaders like Beth Holger, executive director of the Link, know, but she added that the report probably undercounts the true number of LGBTQ youth and adults without homes in Minnesota.
At the Link, Holger said, 20 to 35% of homeless clients identify as LGBTQ.
“There’s just a lot of oppression and discrimination still,” Holger said of family abandonment and school bullying. “There’s still a pretty big lack of acceptance and support.”
Project Live Out Loud
The Link started Project Live Out Loud about five years ago with 15 units of housing for LGBTQ young adults ages 18 to 24. If the organization could get more funding, Holger said, she wants to at least double that number of places to stay and add an LGBTQ homeless youth drop-in center.
“The need is much higher than that,” she said.
In Duluth, the Black LGBTQ teens and young adults who Jordon Johnson meets as executive director of Life House, a nonprofit serving homeless youth, face more discrimination and barriers than homeless teens and young adults who are straight or cisgender, those who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Of the nearly 1,000 youth Life House worked with last year, Johnson said 20% identified as LGBTQ.
Like many places in Minnesota, Duluth lacks enough resources to help the homeless. Johnson said there are an estimated 100 homeless youth in the northern Minnesota city every night, sleeping outside or couch hopping. Life House has 10 beds in its emergency shelter, which opened in 2018.
Now with coronavirus concerns and the economic downturn, “everything becomes more heightened,” Johnson said.
“There’s been an increased need,” he added. “Our services will be needed more than ever.”