By: Clarissa Huard
According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, 76,998 people experienced homelessness in Chicago throughout 2018. Of those, the number of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness (ages 14-24) in Chicago is around 11,376. With the pandemic creating more barriers and challenges, including unprecedented levels of unemployment, these numbers are likely to have increased in 2020.
Experiencing homelessness is difficult for anyone, but especially for youth who are still in key developmental stages in their lives. LGBTQ+ youth disproportionately experience homelessness compared to non-LGBTQ+ youth. While approximately 7% of youth identify as LGBTQ+, they account for up to 40% of homeless youth. A study published by Chapin Hill at the University of Chicago in 2017 found that LGBTQ+ youth have a 120% higher risk of homelessness than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. They also found that Black youth faced an 83% greater risk of homelessness, and Hispanic non-white youth faced a 33% higher risk compared to their White counterparts. From this data, we can see that youth who are experiencing homelessness often face unique and compounded challenges based on their intersecting identities.
LGBTQ+ youth face barriers that are unique to their identities, and these barriers, coupled with other factors such as race/ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or level of education, can increase their risk of experiencing homelessness. The most commonly cited reason for them facing homelessness is rejection from family and society, which can happen over time or suddenly due to their identity. This can lead to isolation. Other factors may include poverty, abuse at home, family issues, or aging out of foster care.
In addition, they are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system, which can lead to a cycle of homelessness that is difficult to break. One study found that 20% of youth in the juvenile justice system were a part of the LGBTQ+ community, even though only about 7% of youth overall identify as LGBTQ+. Beyond facing discrimination based on their identity and homeless status, these youths also face discrimination for having a “record,” which can make it even harder to find housing.
Another challenge these youth face is navigating our complex health care system, which can be daunting even for an adult. They face the additional stress of finding a doctor who is knowledgeable on gender identity, accepts their identity, and does not judge them. LGBTQ+ youth are at greater risk of suicide, bullying, depression, and being forced into sex.
These are difficult times for everyone due to the pandemic, the challenge of virtual learning, a climate crisis, and a racial justice movement. Not everyone has the space and support to grapple with everything that is happening. We don’t have to wait for Pride month to support and uplift the LGBTQ+ youth of Chicago.
There are many organizations throughout the city of Chicago that work specifically with LGBTQ+ youth and provide fantastic resources. Some of them include: