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Safe and Supported Community Plan Assists Homeless LGBTQ Youth in Hamilton County, Ohio

Photograph of a young adult speaking into a microphone and approximately a dozen other people sitting around several tables or standing in the back of a large meeting room.
Youth spokespeople at Safe and Supported meetings were provided media training to encourage them to share their experiences without publicly revealing sensitive information or causing them to re-experience trauma. Credit: Safe and Supported

HUD and other federal agencies have recently begun focusing on the issue of youth homelessness. In 2012, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released the Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness, an amendment to the federal government’s comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors. This amendment presents strategies to improve educational outcomes for children and youth, and to end youth homelessness by 2020. The framework specifically identifies lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth as a subpopulation vulnerable to homelessness.

In early 2014, HUD and its partner agencies created the first federal LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative, in which five federal partners and a nonprofit provide technical assistance to help two pilot communities identify successful community-supported strategies to address homelessness among LGBTQ youth. One of the pilot communities is Hamilton County, Ohio (including the city of Cincinnati), where Lighthouse Youth Services, serving as the lead organization, as well as Strategies to End Homelessness, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and other organizations came together to form Safe and Supported and work with the community to create the Hamilton County Safe and Supported Community Plan. The plan acknowledges the unique issues facing LGBTQ youth and includes goals and activities to prevent homelessness. The plan also employs interventions that correspond with specific risk factors; enhances collaboration among state and local organizations; and fosters positive outcomes for employment, education, stable housing, permanent social connections, and social and emotional well-being.

Homeless Youth in Hamilton County

Research shows that youth experiencing homelessness have high levels of emotional, physical, and mental health problems. Youth experiencing homelessness are also likely to engage in risky behaviors. Data from Hamilton County indicate that 43 percent of the homeless population is under the age of 25. In addition, approximately 15 percent of the youth at the Sheakley Center, an emergency shelter for homeless youth in Cincinnati, self-identify as LGBTQ, although this percentage may be low, according to Melissa Meyer, director of Safe and Supported at Lighthouse Youth Services. Because some LGBTQ youth may not disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity and some may not seek shelter or other related services at all, Meyer estimates that up to 40 percent of homeless youth may be LGBTQ. Despite questions about the number of homeless LGBTQ youth, the Safe and Supported plan acknowledges that “there are far too few systems and services designed to meet their needs".

Planning to Prevent and Address Homelessness

Lighthouse Youth Services, Strategies to End Homelessness, and the Cincinnati chapters of GLSEN and HRC initiated a strategic planning process to prepare the Safe and Supported plan in March 2014. The six-month process included four community meetings and events open to all youth and community members. The community was highly supportive of the process, which included LGBTQ groups, assistance providers for homeless youth, child welfare organizations, law enforcement and juvenile justice agencies, educational institutions, and faith-based organizations. Youth focus groups allowed youth experiencing homeless, LGBTQ youth, and others to share their ideas and experiences; participants included more than 25 representatives from the GLSEN Youth Group, the Sheakley Center, and the University of Cincinnati LGBTQ Center. Homeless youth and young adults who have aged out of the foster care system were also involved in the planning process. Youth spokespeople were provided transportation and meals as well as media training to encourage them to share their experiences without publicly revealing sensitive information or causing them to re-experience trauma.

Progress toward Community Goals

The Safe and Supported partners submitted the community’s plan with its eight goals to HUD in September 2014. The implementation and evaluation phase of Hamilton’s initiative began the following month, with the partners undertaking activities aligned with many of the plan’s goals. To foster greater community awareness and collaboration about LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and related issues, Safe and Supported partners are talking to local pastors about establishing a community forum to discuss faith, family, and LGBTQ youth. Safe and Supported partners are also pursuing other collaborative efforts. For example, the Hamilton County Sherriff’s Office has partnered with Lighthouse Youth Services and designated two LGBTQ liaison officers to work with street outreach teams in an effort to connect homeless youth to needed services.

Safe and Supported partners have also begun many activities to promote positive outcomes for LGBTQ youth. To support stable housing, the partners are developing a host-home program for LGBTQ youth modeled after a similar program in Minneapolis. The program will provide identify-affirming housing placements for LGBTQ youth who have aged out of foster care or been barred from their parents’ home. To improve the education, employment, and emotional well-being of these youth, Safe and Supported is also preparing to offer cultural competency training in summer 2016, which many area schools have already received through GLSEN and HRC. Safe and Supported is expanding this effort to homeless services providers, juvenile justice staff, libraries, healthcare institutions, foster care and adoption agencies, and youth-serving organizations such as AmeriCorps. In addition, Safe and Supported is collaborating with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Lambda Legal to create an LGBTQ youth employment module to add to Moving the Margins, NASW’s training curriculum for child welfare services for LGBTQ youth in out-of-home care.

Other goals of Safe and Supported include enhancing the quality of interventions for homeless or at-risk LGBTQ youth and improving the quality of data on gender identity and sexual orientation. To improve access to services, Safe and Supported partners have collaborated with a local software developer to create Upz, a mobile application that helps LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and those at risk of homelessness find emergency and supportive services. In addition, Safe and Supported is creating a wallet card that professionals can use to connect these youth to services. To improve data collection on LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, Safe and Supported is collaborating with the Nielsen Company to create a web-based survey tool that will collect information on the sexual orientation and gender identity of homeless youth in Hamilton County. The Nielsen Company is also helping to disseminate the survey through kiosks and volunteers.

Lessons Learned

As one of the pilot communities for HUD’s LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative, Hamilton County will use its experience to help inform the strategies of the federal government and other communities that are developing similar plans. Even though the implementation phase will not end until October 2016, Meyer states that the partners have already identified some important lessons. Safe and Supported partners have found that coordination among homeless shelters, service providers, LGBTQ youth organizations, and other community institutions is crucial to planning and implementing effective programs for LGBTQ youth. Another important lesson that Meyer highlights is the need to obtain reliable data on sexual orientation and gender identity among homeless youth. Meyer anticipates that data collection efforts by Safe and Supported partners and their collaboration with the Nielsen Company will create new strategies that will be replicable across the country and have a national impact.

Source:

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. 2015. “Opening Doors.” Accessed 8 February 2016; United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. 2012. “Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness.” Accessed 8 February 2016; United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. 2012. “USICH Framework for Ending Youth Homelessness,” 13. Accessed 8 February 2016.

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Source:

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2015. “Community-Wide Prevention of LGBTQ Youth Homelessness.” Accessed 8 February 2016; Meredith Hicks and Meradith Alspaugh. 2014. "Hamilton County Safe and Supported Community Plan to Prevent Homelessness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth,” 4. Accessed 13 April 2016; Kevin Finn. 2015. “Safe and Supported: A Cincinnati/Hamilton County Initiative to Prevent LGBTQ Homelessness,” 5. Accessed 12 February 2016.

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Source:

Kevin Finn. 2015. “Safe and Supported: A Cincinnati/Hamilton County Initiative to Prevent LGBTQ Homelessness,” 3. Accessed 12 February 2016; Interview with Melissa Meyer, 19 February 2016; Meredith Hicks and Meradith Alspaugh. 2014. "Hamilton County Safe and Supported Community Plan to Prevent Homelessness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth,” 4–6. Accessed 13 April 2016; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. 2014. “Protecting Children From Unhealthy Homes and Housing Instability,” Evidence Matters (Fall). Accessed 12 February 2016.

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Source:

Meredith Hicks and Meradith Alspaugh. 2014. "Hamilton County Safe and Supported Community Plan to Prevent Homelessness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth,” 9. Accessed 13 April 2016; Kevin Finn. 2015. “Safe and Supported: A Cincinnati/Hamilton County Initiative to Prevent LGBTQ Homelessness,” 6–10. Accessed 12 February 2016; Interview with Melissa Meyer, 19 February 2016.

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Source:

Kevin Finn. 2015. “Safe and Supported: A Cincinnati/Hamilton County Initiative to Prevent LGBTQ Homelessness,” 8. Accessed 12 February 2016; Meredith Hicks and Meradith Alspaugh. 2014. "Hamilton County Safe and Supported Community Plan to Prevent Homelessness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth,” 17–9. Accessed 13 April 2016; Interview with Melissa Meyer, 19 February 2016.

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Source:

Meredith Hicks and Meradith Alspaugh. 2014. "Hamilton County Safe and Supported Community Plan to Prevent Homelessness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth,” 22–5. Accessed 13 April 2016; Interview with Melissa Meyer, 19 February 2016.

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Source:

Meredith Hicks and Meradith Alspaugh. 2014. "Hamilton County Safe and Supported Community Plan to Prevent Homelessness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth,” 19–22. Accessed 13 April 2016; Interview with Melissa Meyer, 19 February 2016.×

Source:

Interview with Melissa Meyer, 19 February 2016; Kevin Finn. 2015. “Safe and Supported: A Cincinnati/Hamilton County Initiative to Prevent LGBTQ Homelessness,” 8, 17. Accessed 12 February 2016.×