June 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBT youth included in plan to end homelessness

The Obama administration highlighted the longstanding problem of homelessness among LGBT youth this week when it announced a strategy that U.S. Housing & Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donavan called “the most far-reaching and ambitious plan to end homelessness in our history.”

Administration officials released the plan Tuesday during a White House event at which Donovan, two other cabinet secretaries and the head of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness pledged to find stable housing for most of the nation’s homeless within 10 years.

Donavan, who serves as chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, said that many people who fall victim to homelessness face discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“What I would say is so many of those at risk of homelessness are marginalized in various ways,” he told the Blade after the event. “As we’ve seen with youth, those who age out of foster care … [and] who are ostracized and targeted because of their gender identity or sexual orientation are one of the populations that are at increased risk for homelessness.

“So everyone has a stake in making sure that those who are at risk of homelessness, including those targeted because of their gender identity and sexual orientation, need to be part of this effort, and they are.”

He said that curtailing bias against homeless LGBT youth would result in broader benefits for the country.

“It’s also wrong for taxpayers of the nation, more broadly, because ultimately the costs of homelessness to our society and the taxpayers are far larger when folks fall into homelessness than if we prevent that homelessness in advance,” he said.

The 67-page document released Tuesday, “Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent & End Homelessness 2010,” calls for building on what it says have been highly effective strategies for addressing the homeless problem that local and state governments and private charitable groups in many parts of the country have used.

Among other things, it calls for eradicating homelessness among military veterans and the chronic homeless within five years. It calls for eliminating homelessness among “unaccompanied youth” and “individual adults” within 10 years.

“Youth often leave home as a result of severe family conflict which may include physical and/or sexual abuse,” says the plan. “Some studies suggest that racial and ethnic minority youth as well as youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning represent a larger proportion when compared to the overall population.”

The plan says that, in general, homeless youth need shelter along with transitional programs and services that emphasize “stabilization and reunification with families when appropriate.”

However, it notes that “in many cases, youth have become homeless because of hostile and dangerous conditions at home and that reunification with families may not be appropriate for groups such as victims of abuse and many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.”

Donovan said the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which prepared the plan, consists of 19 federal agencies, including HUD and the U.S. departments of Health & Human Services and Veterans Affairs.

Barbara Poppe, the Council’s executive director and who is credited with coordinating the project, told the Blade that experts on LGBT youth and homelessness provided information to the Council through a special working group that focused on youth issues.

“We believe they should have absolute access to shelter and support,” she said of LGBT youth. “But more importantly, we want to set them on a path to employment and transition to adulthood. We’re very excited to implement the plan with a strong focus on any homelessness among youth over the next decade.”

The Obama administration’s plan for addressing homelessness comes four year after the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless issued what many LGBT activists considered a groundbreaking report on homelessness among LGBT youth.

The report, based on an extensive review of research conducted by private and local governmental agencies throughout the country, said its findings suggest that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identity as LGBT.

Among other things, the report found that LGBT youth were often victims of violence and harassment in homeless shelter. The report also noted that faith-based shelters sometimes created further problems for LGBT youth because of certain religious teachings on homosexuality.

“Our country can do better, and its leadership has an obligation to ensure that all people — including LGBT youth and adults — are not left without fundamentals such as food, safety and a roof over one’s head,” said Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey in prepared comments on the administration’s new homelessness plan.

“While we are pleased to see that LGBT people are being considered in a strategy to confront homelessness, real progress will occur when such inclusive strategies are actually implemented,” she said. “Homelessness is a critical issue for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. For far too long, too many of our young people have been kicked out of their homes, forced to live on the streets, for simply being who they are. This has been a national disgrace of epidemic proportions.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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