Addressing Homeward VA's Lack of LGBTQ Acknowledgment
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
The following policy proposal was written during the Fall 2019 semester for a university seminar class.
Addressing Homeward VA's Lack of LGBTQ Acknowledgment
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning individuals are disproportionately over-represented in the homeless population, yet very few organizations actively recognize and address the severity of this issue. Approximately 5% of individuals in the United States openly identify as LGBTQ, however “20% to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ” (Eastman). As a result of this jarring data, it is evident that the LGBTQ community has been overlooked in resource allocation.
Currently, there is no statistical data being collected by Homeward VA that addresses the profound and amplified needs of the LGBTQ homeless community. Since Homeward VA documents demographics of families and individuals experiencing homelessness around the Greater Richmond area in order to inform programs, planning, and funding, this gap in data results in a monumental lack of resources as well as lack of acknowledgement and awareness. LGBTQ individuals experiencing homelessness are not being accounted for, and therefore, their unique struggles are not being addressed. By adding LGBTQ self-identification to the demographic data collected, Homeward VA can better understand and serve the needs of the homeless community.
LGBTQ individuals all around the world experience homelessness—including in our own neighborhood. There are many different reasons as to why LGBTQ individuals experience homelessness at such a higher rate than their cisgender and heterosexual (i.e. non-LGBTQ) counterparts. For example, many young queer people experiencing homelessness are kicked out of their homes by homophobic and transphobic family members after either coming out, being outed, or being perceived as LGBTQ by their families. In creator and activist, Stevie Boebi’s debut short film, “Weenie,” Boebi recounts her own experiences being thrown out of multiple different homes from age sixteen to twenty-two as a result of being an out LGBTQ person. Boebi shares snapshots of her life on and off the streets lasting a total of about four years, highlighting how LGBTQ individuals not only experience homelessness at higher rates, but also have a higher likelihood of being homeless for over a year. In denying the reality of this over-representation of queer individuals in the homeless population, queer people who are struggling cannot get adequate help, and folks who are not struggling are unaware that this issue even exists in the first place.
Under Homeward VA’s current practices, in-depth demographic information is addressed on the basis of race, ethnicity, veteran status, age, and ability. In the snapshot evaluations, additional information can be found for education, served time in jail and/or prison, experience of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, mental health problems, employment, and even recurring homelessness.
With such intimate and personal data already being collected, it is senseless to continue overlooking LGBTQ self-identification when LGBTQ folks represent such a large portion of the homeless population. As it is Homeward VA’s mission to combat homelessness in Richmond through resource allocation, studying the unique needs of the LGBTQ homeless community will help drastically reduce Richmond’s homeless population.
Before anything else, it is critical that Homeward VA adds LGBTQ self-identification as a data point collected for both in-depth analyses and snapshot evaluations. By doing so, Homeward VA will be giving a voice to a community that has thus far been silenced. In order to implement this, I offer the following categories:
It is crucial that these categories remain open and fluid. Respondents must be allowed to circle as many or as few categories as they wish. Should the respondent not understand the question or any of the terms, “unsure” may be marked. Should the respondent become uncomfortable, “refuse to answer” may be marked. Should the respondent feel limited by the options or not have or see their desired term(s), either “queer / other” and/or “questioning” may be marked. Unless one of the categories on the bottom row is marked, it may be assumed that the respondent is cisgender, one whose gender identity matches their gender assigned at birth (i.e. not transgender). The option “Straight / Heterosexual” has been included without “cisgender” attached so that heterosexual transgender people may be recognized in their entirety. Other surveys inquiring about LGBTQ self-identification in the past have been incredibly limiting—only allowing for one selection and/or offering fewer selections.
While it is incredibly important to include these terms, it is also crucial that staff be trained in how to ask about LGBTQ identity and the hardships that may have arisen as a result of being LGBTQ. Make a point to ask about their coming out experience. Is this person out to anyone else? Did this person face adverse consequences (unemployment, eviction, etc.) as a result of being out? Was this person maltreated by social programs or places of public accommodation in the past for being LGBTQ? Consider their past and how it may relate to their current experience being homeless. According to a study performed by University of California’s Brandon Andrew Robinson, “youth who are LGBTQ may choose the ‘safety’ of the streets over foster homes and other placements.” This shows the unique and often ignored conflicting viewpoints considered by some members of the homeless population: the idea that homelessness is, to some degree, the “better option.”
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to homelessness. People of all different walks of life will have varying experiences, however, LGBTQ people specifically will face additional hardships and obstacles as a result of negative views towards their identities. In a study that called for participation from university faculty all across the country, it was discovered that “youth-serving systems (that is, housing, healthcare, education, employment) often lack the ability to recognize and respond to the needs of [young adults] whose lives are impacted by the multiple and layered stigmas resulting from racism, classism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, and transbias” (Shelton, Jama, et al.). As Homeward VA continues working with at-risk members of our community, staff must continue educating themselves about the interconnectedness of identity, discrimination, and systemic oppression that may lead to one’s experience of homelessness.
By offering the opportunity for others to claim ownership of their identity in multiple new ways, Homeward VA will begin the first step to proper LGBTQ acknowledgment. Once members of the community can elect which terms they are most aligned with, Homeward VA can then use this new data when moving forward in programs, planning, and funding. One such collective that Homeward VA may find value in researching is the LGBTQ+ Housing Collaborative featuring programs by Side By Side, Nationz Foundation, and the Virginia Anti-Violence Project. A partnership between Homeward VA and the LGBTQ+ Housing Collaborative would be mutually beneficial. These three organizations would gain access to Homeward VA’s new statistical data and proper funding so as to combat LGBTQ homelessness in and around Richmond.
That being said, there are multiple organizations around Richmond that share a common goal with Homeward VA and would be willing to partner together to solve this problem. There are very few obstacles that may arise. Given that Homeward VA is already collecting data about demographics from members of the Greater Richmond area’s homeless population, it will take only an extra couple minutes to ask about LGBTQ self-identification. Those few extra minutes it will take to ask these questions will cost absolutely nothing since data is collected primarily by volunteers, and yet the payoff will be undeniably life-saving. Staff members are already collecting data about race, ethnicity, veteran status, age, and ability—all of which require a certain level of social awareness to the systemic issues that contribute to poverty, eviction, and specifically homelessness. Adding LGBTQ identity and cultural sensitivity to an already adept social awareness training will prove unchallenging. Side By Side is just one of many local resources willing to offer these trainings (which are free to organizations that may serve LGBTQ youth).
While there may be some pushback from members of the community who are unsupportive of LGBTQ people, the existence of LGBTQ people is an undeniable reality, and their needs must be addressed. While a few adverse individuals may send strongly-worded emails or even attempt to protest the inclusion of LGBTQ identities, members of the homeless community who are under the LGBTQ umbrella deserve to be seen, treated with respect, and acknowledged in their truth. Should one of Homeward VA’s previous sponsors or partnering organizations wrongfully rescind a prior agreement to fund or exchange information, many other local organizations—such as those aforementioned in the LGBTQ+ Housing Collaborative—will be willing and ready to join forces. By adding LGBTQ self-identification to the demographic data collected, Homeward VA will continue expanding its capabilities as an organization to end homelessness. In taking the time to acquire this additional data and become more socially competent, Homeward VA will be able to raise awareness and allocate proper funding to different life-saving programs for even more individuals and families all across Virginia.
Ackermann, Margot. “January 2019 Snapshot of Individuals and Families Experiencing Homelessness in the Richmond Region.” Homeward VA, 2019.
Boebi, Stevie. “Weenie - Queer Teen Homelessness Short Film.” 13 Oct. 2019. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJiXYFvnnqk.
Eastman, Toby., et al. “Larkin Street Stories. Episode 1, The Homeless LGBT Experience.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Homelessness Resource Center, 2011.
Robinson, Brandon Andrew. “Child Welfare Systems and LGBTQ Youth Homelessness: Gender Segregation, Instability, and Intersectionality.” Child Welfare, vol. 96, no. 2, Mar. 2018, pp. 29–45. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,cookie,uid&db=c8h&AN=130544606&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Shelton, Jama, et al. “Homelessness and Housing Experiences among LGBTQ Young Adults in Seven U.S. Cities.” Cityscape, vol. 20, no. 3, 2018, pp. 9–33.
Yackso, Emma. “LGBTQ+ Housing Collaborative.” Side By Side VA, 2019.