Thoughts On Homeless LGBTQIA+ Youth Social Services: What Does Enough Look Like ?

It’s only fitting that during Pride month I bring my queer agenda back to The Ruined Report to discuss a topic very close to my heart. Working as a Case Manager at a teen shelter required all of the social work skills needed to support individuals experiencing homelessness. However, my role as advocate oftentimes turned into ‘professional listener’ to youths who have been estranged from their families, often because of their gender or sexual identity. As heartbreaking as my role usually was, it continues to fuel me to keep an ear and eye out for all of the agencies, organizations, and nonprofits available in the US that support this population and what exactly these groups are doing to prevent further homelessness, stigma, and isolation.

Did you know there are an estimated “1.68 million runaway or homeless youth under the age of 18 in the U.S. each year” and that  40 percent of the runaway and homeless youth population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) as compared to 10 percent in the general population? Over in the UK, “more than 100,000 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK turned to their local authority for assistance in 2017-18 because they had either nowhere to live or because they were under threat of homelessness”. According the the Albert Kennedy Trust, 24 % of homeless young people in the UK identify as LGBT.

The need for sustainable shelter and transitions options for homeless youths is undoubtedly high in both countries and further, the number of LGBTQIA+ identifying youths make up a significant portion of this population. Both countries have a variety of different programming in place to combat and prevent this number from increasing. Some larger homeless youth prevention and support services include Trevor Project (US) and the Albert Kennedy Trust (UK). Of course, there are many smaller scale organizations, nonprofits, and shelters working to end youth homelessness, but I mention the big names because, especially in the United States, reputation equals economic support. Most organizations, like True Colors United (US), or Shelter (UK) operate from continued donor support. While I am no budget or fiscal expert, it is no secret that the need for social service support is greater than the money provided by donors and the government combined.

This being said, I was recently invited to an LGBTQIA+ conference that got me thinking — not about the amount of money given to social services, but how these social services use this money.

On June 1st the Albert Kennedy Trust held its 12th annual Youth Conference: a day of talks, panels, and workshops themed in building stronger communities for LGBTQIA+ young people 16-25. Held in London’s Salesforce Tower, this event was a jam-packed day of celebration, connection, and activism. In the morning, Sadie Sinner, founder of The Cocoa Butter Club, gave a keynote titled “Decolonize & Galvanize,” a keynote challenging us to find ‘comfort in discomfort’ in fighting for equity, not equality. Workshops throughout the day included themes like maintaining a strong sense of self in the workplace, working for stronger BAME communities, boundaries in sexual relationships, navigating faith and religion, finding online support, and skills to be a better activist. AKT brought in a variety of speakers, including two representing social services in the US.

As I attentively listened to panels on what community means, I started to question why a seemingly small queer youth homelessness organization would fly representatives from the US all the way over to a small-scope conference of young people with little to no money. By simply registering for the event, I got free admission to the conference, the pre-conference social held by UK Black Pride and my travel and accommodation completely paid for. No loopholes, no waivers, no catch. Larger donors like Salesforce had representatives there with t-shirts promoting their company, but overall they were simply there to help us find our way around and genuinely feel comfortable.

As I was attempting to process my thoughts with others at the conference, it occurred to me that something like this would never happen in the US. In part, I think this is because there is too great a need and too little funds to make a sustainable lasting impact. The UK has a smaller pool of people to work with, so placing value in the continued support of homeless LGBTQIA+ youth is somewhat economically attainable. Not only do US organizations not have enough funding to immediately help their clients, but even if they did acquire funding large enough to cover immediate needs, preventative strategies, and support conferences, I am not so sure (and I’m generalizing here) that large US organizations value the continued support of life in the same way UK organizations like AKT do. Sure, different organizations hold conferences and celebrations on activism or pride — but not completely free, catered conferences geared towards people who literally have nothing to give back to them.

AKT claims that 79 pence of every pound goes directly to young people support. Even though the Trevor Project spends about 76% on ‘Operations, Occupancy, & Personnel’ , I find it difficult to believe that this can be seen and felt by each one of the individuals who needs it: the US is overwhelmingly too big. While agencies hesitate to break down what exactly makes up their expenditures, it seems that even though money is going into US organizations, it isn’t present and used in the same way as UK organizations. I do not want to speak for a population, but rather, reflect on small scale observations I’ve made across continents to better understand how I can best support oppressed people with the queer community. While comparing the UK and the US isn’t necessarily a productive practice (because they are two completely different countries after all) , I am finding that we can learn things about our large scale Western value systems from one another.

So I suppose my question remains: how is this money being spent in the US? Or, more immediately, is morale building through community the most appropriate use of funds? Should this money be funneled into building more shelters? Improving shelter conditions? Staffing on a larger scope across both continents? As I started to dig into the research, I realized that assessing our organizations’ spending is a necessary step to supporting homeless youth and being a good LGBTQIA+ ally. However, this is a large task that cannot be assessed and completed by one person in a mere blog post. This short weekend experience really got my wheels turning. As we walk past pride flags and possibly partake in celebrations, I invite you to notice how allies and members alike are supporting (or not supporting) the populations that need help. Furthermore, I invite you to reflect on where your money is going and how its being used. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, spending is one of our most impactful power tools.

For more information on social services across the US and UK, please visit the hyperlinks mentioned throughout this post. If you or someone you know need help or support, you can contact:

UK help numbers:

Shelter can offer housing advice: 0808 800 4444

Citizens Advice Bureau: 03444 111 444

Samaritans: 116 123

National LGBT Domestic Violence Helpline: 0300 999 5428 / 0800 999 5428

LGBT SwitchBoard: 0300 330 0630

US help numbers:

TrevorLifeline — A crisis intervention and suicide prevention phone service available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386

TrevorText — Text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365.

TrevorSpace — An online international peer-to-peer community for LGBTQ young people and their friends.

NYC Anti-Violence hotline: 212-714-1141

LGBT SwitchBoard: 0300 330 0630

Feature Image by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

About Emily

Emily Win (she/her/hers) — Regular Contributor, Editor — She is currently earning her MA in Creative Writing and Critical Life from the University of Leeds in Leeds, England, but she embraces Toledo, Ohio as her hometown. Her passion for faith and justice led her to Saint Louis University, where she continued to explore issues of poverty and homelessness through tutoring, mentoring, companionship, and outreach. During her year as a Case Manager at a teen crisis shelter she learned that she loves working with teenagers and hopes to continue this work in some capacity in the future. Emily’s personal and professional interests exist in the intersection of writing, literature, and activism, specifically in regards to sexuality and gender. She is currently working on a collection of poetry/creative non-fiction that exposes, complicates, and affirms the relationship between womanhood, queerness, and Christianity. (Tucson 2017-2018)