LGBTQ teenagers continue to find themselves without safe shelter at disproportionate rates. We can change that.
RECENTLY, Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness. I applaud this declaration and the increase in funding for human services and emergency shelter. Personally, I am particularly interested in ensuring our young community members experiencing homelessness benefit from this investment.
Currently, there are upward of 800 young people in our city lacking shelter. Studies have informed us that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, with many experiencing homelessness following rejection from their families.
In the mid-90s, the country and state of Washington were telling LGBTQ youth that they were “undesirable,” passing Defense of Marriage Acts in Washington D.C. and Olympia. In this atmosphere, I made a step out of the closet. Unfortunately, my mother’s spouse was less than hospitable, and I no longer had a safe place to live.
Young and homeless
Join The Seattle Times editorial board’s search for solutions to the challenges of youth homelessness. Editorial writer Jonathan Martin has talked with kids, parents, foster parents, social workers, state officials and lawmakers and is sharing findings in a series of editorials.
Join Martin and Megan Gibbard of All Home King County at noon for an Ask Me Anything live chat on Reddit.
To read the full project and for instructions for how to participate in the Reddit discussion, visit seattletimes.com/opinion
Video: What would have helped you?
Meet six young people from The Mockingbird Society talk about their experiences being homeless and what helped them get off the streets.
ColumnsEditor's note: Embracing the state's young and homeless
Op-EdsA call to action: LGBTQ teens need shelter, wraparound services
Support for this series
Reporting for this project was made possible with financial support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private, national philanthropic organization that aims to better futures for disadvantaged children in the U.S. The work was done and directed independently of the foundation.
Reddit chatJonathan Martin and Megan Gibbard of All Home King County talked about youth homelessness during a recent "Ask Me Anything" Live chat on Reddit.
My story had a happy ending and a comparatively happy path. Cocoon House had an available bed, and I had access to the services I needed to be successfully reunited with my mother. I had access to Planned Parenthood’s youth drop-in center, run by Adrienne Anderson, which gave me something to do after school, and an adult who, along with those at Cocoon House, projected the opposite message of what we were hearing from elected officials. There were constant reminders from adults who were not politicians that I mattered — that we mattered and were worth the investment of resources and time.
The unfortunate reality is that my story is not typical. A study by the Center for American Progress found that 58 percent of homeless LGBTQ youth were victims of sexual assault, compared to 33 percent of heterosexual homeless youth. Sixty-two percent of homeless LGBTQ youth had experienced discrimination from their families. LGBTQ homeless youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide following rejection from their families. For those who are rejected by their families, the average age a gay or lesbian young person will experience homelessness is 14.4 years old. For transgender youth, it’s 13.5 years old.
It is these numbers, and my own experience, that shape my belief that we must continue to invest in the shelter that our youth need as well as wraparound services. LGBTQ youth in particular face daunting odds of reunification and success in life if their families reject them. But if we show them that they are worth the investment by making it happen, I know we will see more success stories.
Of course, the city alone cannot be expected to shoulder the cost, particularly with our limited means of revenue.
First and foremost, the state of Washington must enact a capital-gains tax to provide more revenue for education — as well as funding for wraparound human services (including housing). All levels of government should work to ensure that human services contracts are doing what they are expected to do, recognizing, though, that numbers alone will never tell the story of these programs’ impacts. One literally has to see these services in action to know if they are working as intended.
Locally, we need more shelter beds — both emergency and transitional. Olympia must grant local jurisdictions the authority to collect capital gains on high-value property transfers. This will afford municipalities the ability to recover from speculators some of what they are gaining from public investment in transit and parks infrastructure. At the same time, we can make the capital investments needed to ensure no child is forced to sleep outdoors.
Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed same-sex couples held a fundamental right to marry, did not end homophobia. LGBTQ teenagers continue to find themselves without safe shelter at disproportionate rates, often due to rejection from their families. This is something we can change. I know the impact and the result of investing in our young people. I believe they are worth the investment.