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LGBTQ Youth Don't Find a 'Sheltering' Enviornment in Local Homeless Services

  Homeless youth who are lesbian, gay or transgender are not finding a welcoming environment in Syracuse-area shelters.  That’s the finding of a study released Monday by professors in Syracuse University’s Falk College of Human Dynamics.  (Read Report Here)Surveys found many L-G-B-T-Q young people are abused or rejected at home so they leave.  Professor and family therapist Deb Coolhart says when the youth goes to a shelter, staff members can segregate and even criticize.  That’s especially true for transgender youth, who, for example, might identify as a male.

“They have a male name and prefer male pronouns.  There have been incidents where staff refuse to use the name and pronouns, which actually makes the kid unsafe because it outs the kid to all the other kids in the space.  Ranging from that to overt (staff) saying, ‘your parents don’t agree with your identity, neither do I; you’re going to meet your maker in the end.’”

And Coolhart says it can get worse when they leave shelters and other agency services.

“For example having engage in survival sex or make decisions about survival sex, which is performing sexual acts just in order to have some place to say, which is clearly a very stressful thing for a young person to have to deal with and think about”

The research was conducted by Deb Coolhart, PhD, LMFT and Maria Teresa Brown, PhD, LMSW from the Syracuse University David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.

Experiences of LGBTQ HomelessYouth

  • Safe Space not safe for LGBTQ youth (Shelters): Youths often described shelters as an unsafe place for LGBTQ youth.  Being homeless and often struggling with parents around their LGBTQ identity, these youths were in need of a safe place, but encountered further struggles when utilizing shelters.
  • Safe spaces not safe (LGBTQ spaces): Some youths and providers discussed how even LGBTQ spaces are sometimes not safe because they provide services for diverse youth who often struggle in relating to each other.
  • Exposure to or fear of violence: Youths who had spent time on the streets while homeless discussed witnessing or experiencing violence or being afraid that they would encounter violence while homeless.
  • Decisions about survival sex: Several youths discussed either engaging in or having to make decisions about survival sex in order to have a place to stay.
  • Mistreatment in Schools: Youths and providers talked about how mistreatment happens in schools, including bullying, verbal and physical abuse, and the use of homo/trans-phobic language.
  • Youths with extended family support not “homeless”: Youths who had extended family support had very different experiences during their unstable housing situations.  Because they had family members to stay with, their experiences were not “homeless” experiences.
  • Strength through struggle: Most youths articulated how they had gained strength through the various struggles they experienced during times of unstable housing.  In general, the resilience demonstrated by these youths was impressive.

Coolhart says the report identifies the biggest need is a specific space for homeless L-G-B-T youth, or at least one that’s more affirmative.   Coolhart believes better training in existing shelters and services would also help.  She hopes the study can be used by local agencies to find funding to help improve or expand services.  

Coolhart reviews some of the recommendations and future for the study.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.