Homeless LGBTQ youth and adult supporters alike know a fix is needed for the high level of LGBTQ youth who are homeless, compared with the population’s size.
She perches in her stress-relieving nirvana: atop a rock just off a trail in a North Seattle park, shrouded by trees.
For Pixie Lumis Serigala, that pronoun — “she” — is sacred. She has fought to be who she is, and has seen that fight play a part in her homelessness for the better part of four years. She’s 22 years old.
“I always knew that I was a girl, regardless of whatever parts I may have,” Serigala says. “I got caught a lot when I was dressing up in my sister’s clothing and playing with her Barbies and all that, and in my family, it wasn’t OK to be different.”
Prospective landlords or roommates often don’t know what to do when they see a transgender person, she said.
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Serigala is one of the hundreds of LGBTQ homeless young people in King County.
Between 6 and 11 percent of youth and young adults nationwide identify as LGBTQ, according to Bianca Wilson at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles law school, which studies sexual orientation and public policy. But 22 percent of King County homeless people ages 12 to 25 are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer, or LGBTQ, officials say.
“You know that there’s a problem,” said Monisha Harrell, board chair for Equal Rights Washington and co-chair of Seattle’s LGBTQ task force, formed by Mayor Ed Murray in March after a series of hate crimes in Capitol Hill. “You know there’s something going on specifically in society that creates this disproportion.”
Murray released an action plan Thursday that includes recommendations from the task force and addresses a range of safety and equality issues, including LGBTQ youth homelessness. The mayor will request funding for Project EQTY, led by the Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse. The project aims to improve workings between agencies and the LGBTQ homeless young people they serve.
“We certainly can’t legislate people to get people to stop hating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Murray said in a news conference. “But there are things we can do to change minds, to change hearts and to protect people.”
LGBTQ homeless youth often have it worse than other youth, facing more mental-health problems and longer periods of homelessness, according to the Williams Institute.
“Shelters are a very short-term solution,” said Megan Gibbard of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County.
The committee reports that every night in King County, 428 beds are available for youth. Almost every night, all the beds are filled, yet at least 124 young people are still sleeping outside.
The problem is a national one, with advocates in various cities searching for a fix
“I’m frustrated,” said Carl Siciliano, founder of the Ali Forney Center in New York City, one of the largest programs for LGBTQ homeless youth. “I feel like in recent years, the government has talked about homeless youth and homeless LGBT youth, but I haven’t seen the resources go up.”
A flurry of numbers from several sources try to quantify the problem. Most experts cite that nationally, up to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. But the Williams Institute, the group that released that number after a 2012 study, now cites more specific medians after a 2015 study.
It estimates that 20 percent of all homeless youth are lesbian or gay, 7 percent are bisexual and 2 percent are questioning. It’s just one of many studies that measures LGBTQ youth homelessness using a number of inconsistent factors.
Gay or transgender homeless youth and young adults are seven times more likely to experience sexual violence than their straight and non-transgender counterparts, according to the Committee to End Homelessness.
The committee’s plan hoped that by this year, less than 13 percent of homeless youth and young adults would identify as LGBTQ. The plan hopes that by 2020, there is no overrepresentation of homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults or homeless youth and young adults of color.
Serigala spent her early childhood in foster care before landing with a family when she was 7. At some point in her childhood, she decided to become Pagan, which her Christian family didn’t accept. She said she enrolled in the military after graduating high school at 18 but quit after three months of basic training.
She said that she tried to return to her family, but they wouldn’t let her move back in because she was unemployed. So she bounced around to other family and shelters and came to Seattle in late 2012. Now she spends almost every night at ROOTS Young Adult Shelter in the University District.
Serigala isn’t alone.
Josh Lowe, 24, had experienced a life of drugs and homelessness. A transgender man, he had taken to applying for jobs in Tacoma with a résumé with two names on it — his birth name and his preferred name, since it hadn’t yet been legally changed. His job hunt turned up empty, and he said he had to leave his father’s house for lack of employment.
Lowe was homeless for nearly two years until January 2014, when he moved into a microstudio with the support of YouthCare, a shelter and transitional-living service in Seattle.
But life has turned around. Since February, he’s been living in a Central District home with roommates and he is a peer outreach worker at the 45th Street Homeless Youth Clinic.
Kellie Pine, 24, ran away from home in Central California to avoid a return to a boarding school for troubled teens. She identifies as gender-fluid and recently got over a drug addiction. She’s working at Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) and sleeping there and on the streets. She doesn’t have time for drugs now, she said.
“Even the uncomfortable gets comfortable on the streets,” she said.
Serigala said her biggest challenge is finding a safe place to sleep when she doesn’t get a place in a shelter.
There are many young-adult shelters in King County, Gibbard said, but not all are appropriate for LGBTQ young people. She said she hopes the issue will be fixed with host homes and rental-assistance plans, to make more long-term solutions to the housing issue.
Serigala hopes to legally change her name and gender soon and get a better paying job; once she finds a home, she wants to spend time on projects to get others to achieve the same. She turns to writing as a solace.
“It’s nice to be able to write out a scenario where, yes, things may be going terrible and you may be in the darkest hour of your life, but you still come out and you still rise up through that and become a better person,” Serigala said. “Writing out things like that makes it easier for me to believe it can happen in my life.”