Youth Homelessness

I’ll be the first to give credit, when and where it is due. We are fortunate to live in a state that considers and integrates equality and diversity in many of our policies and services. It’s a walk through Boston’s Downtown Crossing or one visit to an organization like Bridge Over Troubled Waters, however, that makes apparent at least one particular failure of local government; so many Massachusetts youth are homeless, especially those who identify as LGBTQ. It’s an uncomfortable truth and juxtaposition to a thriving urban landscape of seemingly continuous development. For our state and city to lead in so many ways, we have yet to fully rise to the occasion of combating this crisis.

In 2012, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported, “More resources are needed to respond adequately to youth homelessness and communities should include youth in their long-term strategic planning efforts to end homelessness for all populations.”

The same report specifically mentions the added complication of LGBTQ identity among homeless youth, pointing out that “another key to improving impact is likely to be ensuring that programs are accepting and inviting to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and [Queer/] Questioning (LGBTQ) youth as they may be at particular risk for family separation because of a lack of acceptance. Additionally, LGBTQ youth may be at heightened risk for sexual exploitation and violence on the street and have likely experienced discrimination from a variety of sources, thus making them a population for whom accepting housing models becomes particularly important.” According to data that should not be ignored, LGBTQ youth are up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population nationwide.

What can be done about it?

Locally, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless has taken a leadership role in raising awareness of this serious problem and will be holding a legislative action day on February 27th. Let’s consider this the beginning of a fight against mere declarations of concern about the issue; it’s time to do the necessary work. Many nonprofits like Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Boston GLASS, and MA LGBT Youth Commission have been doing exactly that, for years. Working with these agencies and organizations to develop a realistic plan of action is the next logical step. Demanding that elected officials are a part of that development and that they make a real commitment to implementing measurable, effective changes to support expansion of services for all homeless youth is crucial. That commitment needs to be demonstrated, not only through policy but funding.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness suggests a larger investment “from federal, state, and local governments to prevent youth from sleeping on the streets,” working quickly to reunify families, and thinking outside of the box to develop “more flexible” shelter options. In Massachusetts, we know there will be red tape to cut before these things happen. For example, while I was conducting a civic engagement workshop at Bridge Over Troubled Waters recently, one of the direct care staff referred to strict regulations and requirements that may prevent particular shelters from receiving government funds. I was disturbed to hear about this impediment, but not at all surprised

Our elected officials must do much more and they must do better. Government should never be an obstacle to providing necessary services for anyone. Instead, such efforts should be enabled as much as possible. Doing more and doing better for homeless youth in Massachusetts also has to include consideration of the LGBTQ factor. The question that needs to be asked is what are the housing options and resources for LGBTQ homeless youth and how do we further develop those? Each time we walk by one of our young people on the street, regardless of how they identify or how others identify them, we should not question whether they have a safe place to stay. We are neglecting a serious social ill, if we allow ourselves to continue with politics as usual in this situation. I’m not sure what part of the term youth homelessness doesn’t appeal to the hearts of politicos on Beacon Hill or at City Hall, but grassroots organizing and raising our voices may be what gets the action these young people need.

—Francisco L. White





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