The AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Pride Action Tank are hosting the inaugural Out In the Open Sleep Out Friday, Nov. 20. This event seeks to bring awareness to LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago and provide needed resources to youth-serving organizations.
Nationally, approximately 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ, with nearly 70% indicating that family rejection was a major factor contributing to their housing instability. Additionally, one in five transgender individuals experiences homelessness at some point in their lives.
Closer to home, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimated that there were 20,205 students experiencing homelessness in Chicago during the 2014-'15 school year, and 11,477 of those youths were unaccompanied. Notably, 98% of students experiencing homelessness are students of color.
However, the significance of these numbers cannot be realized until we consider shelter options for youth facing housing insecurity. To gain an accurate understanding of the hurdles facing youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago, you must know that while the number of young people experiencing homelessness has surpassed 20,000, there are less than 400 shelter beds available for these young people. This leaves over 19,000 students with no shelter recourse in Chicago alone.
The number of youth experiencing homelessness has grown to over 1.6 million across the United Statesand for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, finding assistance that meets their needs can be difficult because many shelters and service providers are not equipped to offer LGBTQ-inclusive services, and those service providers with the ability to provide comprehensive services are facing significant hurdles.
For many young LGBTQ people, housing insecurity is just one of many intersectional concerns. For transgender and gender nonconforming ( GNC ) individuals, even after finding housing, the lack of legal safeguards makes that housing precarious. Because some states that offer protections for sexual orientation have not extended those same protections to gender identity, transgender and GNC people face increased vulnerabilities.
While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has enacted anti-discrimination policies, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have codified anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation, and only 19 of those states include provisions for gender identity as well. As a result, rampant housing discrimination against transgender people has been allowed to flourish.
According to the LGBTQ Taskforce, in 2011: 19% of transgender people were denied housing, 11% were evicted, 29% were turned away from shelters, 25% were physically assaulted in shelter, and 22% were sexually assaulted in shelter. In Illinois, 13% of transgender respondents were denied housing and 22% were evicted.
People of color, including LGBTQ people of color, are disproportionately represented in statistics for unemployment and the school-to-prison pipelineboth of which contribute to housing insecurity. The Bureau of National Statistics found that LGBTQ unemployment rates for people of color are worse than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts.
The unemployment rate for LGBTQ Latinos is 14% versus 11% for non-LGBTQ Latinos; the unemployment rate for LGBTQ Black people is 15% versus 12% for non-LGBTQ Black people; and the unemployment rate for LGBTQ Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders is 11% versus 8% for non-LGBTQ Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Students of color, especially Black and Latino students, are starkly over-represented in the juvenile justice system, due in large part to over-discipline within school systems. A recent study found that 70% of students involved in school-related arrests or referrals are Black or Latino. An African American Policy Forum study also found that Black girls are suspended at a rate six times that of their white counterparts.
While these numbers provide a snapshot of the hurdles facing LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, the stories and experiences of this diverse community are best understood by listening to the community members. One way to support LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and hear from them directly is to attend Out in the Open on Nov. 20. In addition to Pride Action Tank and AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the event is hosted by Edelman, Agency EA and Windy City Times, plus many other additional partners. The event will benefit 19 agencies serving youth experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit www.sleepoutchicago.org .
Aisha N. Davis, Esq. is the Tyron Garner Fellow at Lambda Legal, based in the Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. She worked on this project for the Pride Action Tank.