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    Categories: CommentaryPolitics

Youth Homelessness is a Crisis for the LGBT Community

Rick Zbur, Maxine Waters, Scott Wiener, Geoff Kors at EQCA Palm Springs dinner, Oct. 2017. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

California faces a moral failure when it comes to youth homelessness. We have one third of the nation’s homeless youth in our state, and of those minimum 12,000 youth, as many as 40% identify as LGBT. We must, as a community and as a state, step up for our young people. We can and must end youth homelessness.

We know why our LGBT youth are particularly vulnerable to being homeless. It starts with family rejection, which 40% of LGBT youth cite as the reason they are homeless. In San Francisco, I see this every day in the Castro neighborhood, where I have lived for twenty years. For decades, young people have been coming to the Castro to escape intolerance in their communities and their homes.

In recent years, the number of homeless young people in California, ages 16 to 24, has risen, partially driven by the cost of housing. As that rise has occurred, we haven’t devoted enough resources to addressing the unique causes of and solutions to youth homelessness.

As Chair of the California Senate Human Services Committee, I recently joined my counterpart from the Assembly Human Services Committee, Assemblymember Blanca Rubio, to hold a hearing on youth homelessness in California and what we can do to help end this crisis on our streets.

We held the hearing at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which sees two to three new homeless youth come through their doors every day. These are young LGBT people who have nowhere else to go — and they are the ones lucky enough to find a resource like the LA LGBT Center.

At the hearing, we heard from service providers and researchers working with our young people day in and day out. We heard about the various ways we are failing to prioritize resources for homeless youth. For example, one advocate referred to state funding for homeless youth as “budget dust”.  And it’s true. The state needs to do better at providing dedicated funding for homeless youth, and along with my colleague Assemblymember Rubio, I will be pushing for a funding package to significantly increase funding. These young people deserve more than budget dust.

The most challenging part of the hearing for me was hearing directly from the young people about what California’s failures mean for their lives. We had young panelists, formerly homeless youth, who talked about not being able to access the few services that actually exist for them.

A young transgender woman named Alex’ix talked about her experiences being rejected by her family, how there was no one there for her, and how her family wanted to medicate her. She left her home for Los Angeles looking for a better place, but she ended up sleeping on the streets and was jumped for all of her possessions. Depression and isolation followed.

LGBT youth, in particularly transgender youth, face discrimination and intolerance in our shelter systems, and there is just not enough support in the few centers we have. Luckily, Alex’ix found the LGBT Center, and she has worked hard to improve her life. But as Alex’ix said, while it’s her life, we need to get her — and people like her — connected to resources to understand how they can build a better life. As a community, we need to be better at recognizing the epidemic of youth homelessness, and the responsibility that we have to our homeless youth.

Like many, I moved to San Francisco and to the Castro as a young gay man because it was a welcoming place for someone like me. But I was fortunate — I had a supportive family and a law degree.  I had opportunities. So many who come looking for communities like the Castro don’t have those resources. They come looking for community and instead find the streets.

We know what it takes to end youth homelessness: sustained support for housing and other critical services. The question is whether we have the political will to invest the resources to get the job done. Let’s have have that political will. Our kids are depending on us.

—  Scott Wiener is a Democrat representing San Francisco and Northern San Mateo County in the California State Senate.