Poverty, Homelessness, and LGBTQ+
By Beth Mies
Poverty and homelessness can impact anyone, but the sad truth is that they disproportionately impact those who are already vulnerable in some way: survivors of abuse and coercion, people with disabilities, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable populations are more likely to be impacted by poverty and to become homeless. This post is on one marginalized group in particular: LGBTQ+ people and communities.
LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other related identities. This is the group of people who are a minority due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. LGBTQ+ people often face discrimination and prejudice in a variety of ways. Because homelessness and poverty are often the result of an accumulation of unfortunate circumstance, LGBTQ+ homelessness and poverty also result from unfair treatment on multiple levels.
Familial acceptance or rejection is a huge and critical factor in LGBTQ+ homelessness, particularly for youth. Many LGBTQ+ youth come out to their parents, or have their identity disclosed against their will, only to face rejection, abuse, or even disownment. Many of these young people are kicked out of their homes for their identity, forcing them into homelessness, and many others understandably run away. Approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and rejection by family is the most commonly cited reason for their situation.
LGBTQ+ youth are also less likely to have a supportive environment at school. LGBTQ+ students are frequently verbally and physically harassed at school, which results in that population having a significantly higher high school dropout rate than non-LGBTQ+ students.
If a teenager ends up without a home, they have limited options- particularly if they do not have family support. The person can either go to shelters and access resources for homeless people, or they can become part of the hidden homeless by couch-surfing and finding a series of temporary and/or informal residences.
People who identify as LGBTQ+ have a harder time accessing resources intended to help the homeless. Federally-funded non-profit charity organizations, such as homeless shelters, can cite religious beliefs and legally discriminate against the LGBTQ+ population and still receive federal funding- and many do. LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to be verbally and physically harassed in a homeless shelter, making these intended safe havens frequently hostile and unsafe. As a result, homeless LGBTQ+ people are less likely to be able to access and to choose to access shelters and other resources for the homeless.
An outcome of this is that homeless LGBTQ+ youth often find themselves relying on informal systems of survival, such as living with friends, a significant other, or couch-surfing. Sadly, this situation lends itself to manipulators. Frequently, LGBTQ+ people will end up in and stay in abusive relationships because their abuser provides shelter and they have nowhere else
to go. LGBTQ+ homeless youth are seven times more likely to engage in survival sex- trading sex for food, shelter, or other items needed to survive- than non-LGBTQ+ peers. LGBTQ+ homeless people, particularly youth, are more likely to experience physical and sexual exploitation than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, yet there are fewer resources for LGBTQ+ people in this situation.
LGBTQ+ adults are also disproportionately impacted by homelessness. Approximately 30% of homeless adults identify as LGBT. This is due to the factors mentioned above, as well as other factors. Only twenty-two states (and Washington DC and Puerto Rico) outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and only nineteen states (and Washington DC and Puerto Rico) outlaw discrimination based on gender identity/expression. This applies to employment, housing, accommodations, medical treatment, et cetera. In states that do not outlaw these types of discrimination, LGBTQ+ people can be fired, evicted, denied medical treatment, denied services, and face other discrimination because of their identity- and have no legal recourse, because it’s all legal.
Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, often experience this in an even more intense way. They are more likely to suffer the types of discrimination mentioned above. They cannot join the military if they are open about their identity. They can be denied comprehensive healthcare coverage in 42 states. If they identify as neither a man nor a woman, they are even less likely to find any shelter or transitional housing that is safe, welcoming, and adequate.
The factors that go into creating these situations for homeless LGBTQ+ people also impacts those who are not homeless- even aside from homelessness, LGBTQ+ people are also disproportionately impacted by poverty. Twenty percent of LGBTQ+ people living alone have annual incomes of less than $12,000, compared to 17% of the general population. Single LGBTQ+ people with children are three times more likely to live near the poverty line as their non-LGBTQ+ peers, and married or partnered LGBTQ+ people with children are twice as likely to live near the poverty line as their non-LGBTQ+ peers. Transgender people are four times more likely to have annual incomes of less than $10,000 than the general population, even when education is controlled for.
The disproportionate impact of homelessness and poverty on the LGBTQ+ population is a complicated and multifaceted issue, but there are many things that a person can do to help. Before donating, consider researching non-profit charitable organizations to find out if they have a history of discrimination. If you’re civically-minded, you might write a note to a politician about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to non-discrimination laws. And it might sound trite, but the importance of supporting the LGBTQ+ people in your life can’t be overstated. Thank you for your time.
Sources: http://talkpoverty.org/2014/10/09/poverty-in-the-LGBTQ+-community/ http://nationalhomeless.org/issues/LGBTQ+/ http://usich.gov/issue/LGBTQ+_youth/LGBTQ+q_youth_homelessness_in_focus/ http://time.com/3721918/LGBTQ+-gay-homeless-youth/