Skip to main content

Insights From the Field: Listening Sessions With LGBTQI+ Homeless Youth, Young Adults, and Service Providers


Keywords: LGBTQI+, Homelessness, Youth, Young Adult, Affordable Housing, Fair Housing

HUD USER Home > PD&R Edge Home > Trending

Insights From the Field: Listening Sessions With LGBTQI+ Homeless Youth, Young Adults, and Service Providers

Rhea Acuña (Social Science Analyst, PD&R), Katina Norwood (Social Science Analyst, PD&R)

A group of young adults sitting in a circle in a grassy park.In 2023, about 8,000 unsheltered individuals identified as transgender, a gender not singularly female or male, or gender questioning — an increase of 19 percent from 2022. Photo credit:


HUD recognizes the need to gain more comprehensive knowledge of the barriers that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (one's sexual orientation or gender identity), and intersex (LGBTQI+) youth and young adults (YYA) face when trying to access shelter and stable housing. In particular, HUD values integrating voices from individuals with lived experience and partners who are working on the ground to inform current and future practices. "HUD provides billions of dollars to end homelessness each year," said Marion McFadden, principal deputy assistant secretary (PDAS) for Community Planning and Development. "Communities create their own strategies and priorities for increasing access to affordable housing. We know that youth and young adults are in the best position to advise on meaningful engagement with young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, many of whom are LGBTQI+."

Homelessness is a persistent and growing problem, especially for LGBTQI+ YYA. According to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, approximately 8,000 unsheltered individuals identified as transgender, a gender that is not singularly female or male, or gender questioning in 2023, an increase of 19 percent from 2022. However, accurately estimating the extent of housing insecurity and homelessness among YYA, including LGBTQI+ YYA, is difficult because this population tends to avoid accessing services, instead jumping from one precarious living situation to another.

LGBTQI+ YYA experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable because they face additional and compounded challenges of trauma, stigma, and discrimination while navigating the processes of growing up and attempting to obtain secure and stable housing. Compared with their stably housed cisgender and heterosexual peers, LGBTQI+ YYA who experience housing insecurity also may experience more frequent and sustained mental health challenges, food insecurity, and abuse and harassment. At the same time, research has emphasized the need to recognize the heterogeneity within the LGBTQI+ YYA population. Acknowledging this population's diversity and intersectionality may lead to more responsive policies and practices.


In June 2022, President Biden signed Executive Order 14075, Advancing Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Individuals. The executive order directs that the federal government take comprehensive action to tackle obstacles that LGBTQI+ individuals face and advance their rights and well-being. This order builds on Executive Order 13988, Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, which expanded discrimination protections for LGBTQI+ individuals. In response, HUD launched a new LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness Initiative to provide technical assistance and training for shelter and service providers and develop new resources for supporting LGBTQI+ YYA.

To better inform these efforts, from winter 2023 to spring 2024, HUD leadership held 5 listening sessions with approximately 30 LGBTQI+ YYA and 45 service providers (both from HUD-funded and other organizations) in Prince George's County, Maryland; Atlanta; Memphis; Dallas; and New York City. HUD selected these locations to represent a range in geography, protections and resources for LGBTQI+ individuals, and capacity, among other factors. Co-leaders of HUD's LGBTQI+ Working Group, Marion McFadden and Demetria McCain, principal deputy assistant secretary of HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, facilitated these discussions.

Insights From the Field

The listening sessions revealed insights about challenges, barriers, discrimination, and best practices. The following sections identify major themes and suggest practices for organizations working with LGBTQI+ YYA.

LGBTQI+ YYA need access to YYA-specific and -affirming shelter space to feel safe and comfortable.

Service providers identified a shortage of shelters and services targeted to LGBTQI+ YYA as a major barrier to effectively serving this population. Service landscapes with few or no YYA-designated shelters may rely on adult shelter systems, which often are inappropriate or unsafe environments for YYA. Fewer services exist for LGBTQI+ YYA, and available shelter providers may not be affirming. Transgender, nonbinary, and genderfluid YYA, in particular, face additional challenges, such as accessing a shelter that honors their gender identity and where they can safely store, administer, and dispose of medications such as gender-affirming hormones. In addition, participants proposed that shelters could be more welcoming by intentionally creating an atmosphere friendly to LGBTQI+ YYA — for example, by incorporating color, books, and informational posters featuring LGBTQI+ resources.

Integrating trauma-informed care as well as culturally and structurally competent practices and processes into organizations' workflow improves interactions with LGBTQI+ YYA.

Several service providers recognized that they needed improved training and technical assistance to better serve LGBTQI+ YYA. LGBTQI+ competency education can help staff understand YYA's sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, and cultural competency and humility training can help staff identify and address racial and other biases. Staff can also practice trauma-informed care by recognizing YYA's intersectional identities and addressing their intersecting needs. Participants identified opportunities through which organizations can incorporate affirming processes into their workflow. For example, intake forms can include questions asking YYA to share their pronouns and their preferred or chosen name in lieu of their legal name. Finally, participants suggested hiring staff who treat YYA with respect and kindness and, whenever possible, staff who reflect the population served.

LGBTQI+ YYA deserve access to wraparound and sustained care, but continuity challenges hinder the provision of these services.

The listening sessions highlighted both the importance of offering comprehensive support to LGBTQI+ YYA and the difficulty in implementing it because of service and funding gaps. Participants indicated that comprehensive service support addressing housing and non-housing needs (including nutrition, medical, and mental health assistance) helps YYA stabilize. YYA also may require post-housing services to remain housed or achieve other goals, such as employment or continued education. Unfortunately, providers noted that such assistance may be contingent on program eligibility, which is determined by funding. Participants also indicated that YYA could lapse into ineligibility based on changing characteristics, such as age or familial status, and a lack of official identification that reflects their identity. Participants stressed that programs should be designed to serve YYA and adjust to meet their needs.

Turning to external partners allows service providers to be responsive within the limitations of the current funding landscape.

Service providers stressed that the population they serve has wide-ranging and evolving needs that must be met within a landscape characterized by limited and restrictive resources, misalignments between local and state priorities, and administrative burdens. Working with external partners, including government, private, and nonprofit networks, has been an invaluable strategy for service providers, allowing them to extend limited and restricted resources to respond to current needs. For example, service providers collaborate with each other to offer wraparound services, "mak[ing] sure that [providers are] flowing together." In addition, federal laws, program rules, and regulations present challenges to serving undocumented individuals, and several providers underscored the fact that increasing numbers of undocumented LGBTQI+ YYA are seeking support. Service providers have leaned heavily on external partners to support undocumented LGBTQI+ YYA.

Both YYA and service providers can benefit from educational resources that focus on identifying and reporting housing discrimination.

Participating YYA and service providers described several instances of service and housing discrimination, but they were unaware or unfamiliar with reporting and enforcement mechanisms. The participants described not only being turned away for services or facing harassment for their sexual orientation and sexual expression but also discrimination based on their race or ethnicity, age, source of income, and familial status. Although some providers were knowledgeable about fair housing laws and reporting tools, many providers were unsure about how to advise YYA who face discrimination. Some participating YYA mentioned that they generally were aware that they can report instances of discrimination, but they were unfamiliar with the reporting process.

Both service providers and YYA value meaningful engagement and recognize the need to improve, deepen, and broaden that engagement.

Participating YYA underscored the need for homelessness response systems to enhance engagement and outreach with YYA to better respond to their situations and reflect their needs and reach those who do not seek assistance through traditional points of entry. All service providers engaged with YYA with lived experience in multiple ways, with YYA being employed by service providers, serving as part of advisory boards (including Youth Action Boards), or participating in internship programs. Service providers value YYA's unique insights and input, and YYA value these opportunities because they allow them to share their expertise, develop their skillsets, and connect to broader networks. However, participating YYA would like service providers to improve their communication, with clear messaging and more advanced notice of opportunities so that YYA can plan their schedules.


The listening sessions have been invaluable in helping HUD leadership consider next steps in addressing LGBTQI+ YYA homelessness. "Today's young adults are tomorrow's adults, and too many have been left behind, unsheltered and victimized by housing discrimination," said PDAS McCain. "A healthy society is one that takes care of its most vulnerable, which HUD strives to do." HUD gratefully acknowledges the contributions of participating YYA and service providers in informing the LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness Initiative's action items. HUD will continue considering and incorporating their expertise in these efforts.

These listening sessions are just one aspect of HUD's work to address the housing insecurity that LGBTQI+ YYA face. HUD has published an LGBTQIA+ Fair Housing Toolkit and provides ongoing technical assistance to partner organizations working with LGBTQI+ YYA. HUD also plans to implement additional resources and support, including a "Know Your Rights" video designed for YYA to disseminate information about protections against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and an LGBTQI+ landing page to collect HUD's LGBTQI+ resources in a single location.

The definition of youth and young adults varies by federal agency and program. The listening sessions broadly defined youth and young adults as including minors (that is, those under age 18) as well as those in their late teens to mid-20s. ×

The Annual Homeless Assessment Report is an annual report to Congress that outlines estimates from HUD’s annual Point in Time and Housing Inventory counts. The Point in Time Count is a count of individuals of all ages experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness on a single night in January, whereas the Housing Inventory Count inventories beds among HUD-funded providers dedicated to unsheltered individuals. ×

HUD consulted people with lived experience, providers, researchers, and other stakeholders to identify the following five gender categories: (1) Female, (2) Male, (3) Transgender, (4) Gender that is not Singularly Female or Male, or (5) Gender Questioning. ×

Camila Beiner. 2022. “Homeless youth and children are wildly undercounted, advocates say,” National Public Radio, 15 February. ×

Jonah DeChants, Amy E. Green, Myeshia N. Price, and Carrie Davis. 2021. “Homelessness and Housing Instability Among LGBTQ Youth,” The Trevor Project; Staci Perlman, Joe Willard, Janette E. Herbers, J.J. Cutuli, Karin M. Eyrich Garg. 2014. “Youth Homelessness: Prevalence and Mental Health Correlates,” Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research 5:3, 253–377; Harmony Rhoades, Joshua A. Rusow, David Bond, Amy Lanteigne, Anthony Fulginiti, and Jeremy T. Goldbach. 2018. “Mental Health and Suicidality Among LGBTQ Youth Accessing Crisis Services,” Child Psychiatry & Human Development 49, 653–51. ×

Moriah L Macklin, Elana Redfield, and Kerith J. Conron. 2023. “Food Insecurity Among LGBTQ Youth,” Williams Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law; James K. Gibb, Mostafa Shokoohi, Travis Salway, and Lori E. Ross. 2021. “Sexual orientation-based disparities in food security among adults in the United States: results from the 2003–2016 NHANES,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 114:6, 2006–16. ×

Elaine M. Maccio and Kristin M. Ferguson. 2016. “Services to LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth: Gaps and recommendations,” Children and Youth Services Review 63, 47–57; M.L. Walters, J. Chen, and M.J. Breiding. 2013. “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation,” National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ×

Jama Shelton, Jonah DeChants, Kim Bender, Hsun-Ta Hsu, Diane Santa Maria, Robin Petering, Kristin Ferguson, Sarah Narendorf, and Anamika Barman-Adhikari. 2018. "Homelessness and Housing Experiences among LGBTQ Young Adults in Seven U.S. Cities," Cityscape 20:3, 9–34. ×

Executive Order 14075 outlines actions that the administration is taking to enhance protections, support, and access to care for LGBTQI+ individuals and introduces new initiatives to protect foster youth, prevent homelessness, and improve access to federal programs. For more information, see the White House fact sheet released on June 15, 2022, that summarizes EO 14075. ×

HUD's LGBTQI+ Working Group for Executive Order 14075 is composed of representatives from the following HUD offices: Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Community Planning and Development, Public and Indian Housing, Policy Development and Research, Housing, Public Affairs, Field Policy and Management, Administration, and the Office of the Secretary. This working group leads new efforts to identity and address the barriers to housing that LGBTQI+ individuals face, provides guidance and technical assistance to housing providers that serve LGBTQI+ individuals, and seeks funding opportunities for culturally appropriate services that address barriers to housing for LGBTQI+ individuals. ×

Several other HUD staff across FHEO, CPD, HUD's Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH), and HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) also attended to support discussion and take notes. ×

During the sessions, HUD took detailed and anonymized notes. Later, HUD reviewed these notes to summarize key findings. ×

The authors, in partnership with HUD staff, reviewed the listening session notes to identify key themes. In addition, HUD collaborated with YYA and provider participants to review the draft version of this article to confirm findings and offer additional recommendations. ×

Although YYA and providers identified the benefits that services targeted to LGBTQI+ YYA individuals might provide, doing so is not a HUD requirement. Instead, under HUD's Equal Access Rule, shelters receiving HUD funding must provide services to all individuals "without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status." ×

Source of income (SOI) discrimination is discrimination based on how an individual acquires income, such as housing vouchers, Social Security, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. One of the most common examples of SOI discrimination involves landlords refusing to rent to voucher holders. ×

"Familial status" refers to households with (or seeking legal custody of) children under age 18 and pregnant persons. ×

As defined by FR-6700-N-35, a Youth Action Board is a “group of at least 3 youth and young adults with voting power on policy decisions of the [Continuum of Care], particularly on policies that relate to preventing and ending youth homelessness.” For more information, see: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2021. “Youth Action Board (YAB) Pathways to Leadership.” ×

The goal of the LGBTQIA+ Fair Housing Toolkit is to educate housing providers, tenants, applicants, and other housing consumers about LGBTQI+ fair housing protections to advance housing equity for LGBTQI+ individuals. ×

HUD provides technical assistance to partner organizations implementing HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program and Youth Homelessness System Improvement grants, although this assistance is not specific to LGBTQI+ individuals. ×

Publication of both the "Know Your Rights" video and HUD's LGBTQI+ webpage is forthcoming. ×

Published Date: 25 June 2024

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.