Youth homelessness in the U.S. is a national crisis in urban, suburban, and rural communities, affecting an estimated nearly two million young people every year. Consistent research shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented among the homeless, comprising up to 40 percent of the total unaccompanied homeless youth population, even though they make up an estimated eight percent of the overall youth population. Family conflict is the leading cause of youth homelessness, and research from True Colors Fund and The Williams Institute indicates that for LGBTQ youth, family rejection is often a result of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
In order to address this epidemic, True Colors Fund launched #40toNoneDay, a national day to raise public awareness about LGBTQ youth homelessness, and to provide advocates with tools to address this crisis. To mark #40toNoneDay, HRC sat down with HRC Youth Ambassador Justin Jones to discuss his experience as a homeless LGBTQ youth.
When did you experience homelessness?
I became homeless at the age of 18 after I finished high school. I wanted to be independent so I decided that I would try to live on my own. When I found an apartment I liked, I was rejected because I had no credit or a job. When I found temporary transitional housing, I told my family I found an apartment.
What factors contributed to you becoming homeless?
I did not have the financial means to live on my own. I would couch surf with friends that could help me only for a small time. I never really had a real job before and even with a high school diploma I just did not have the soft skills to maintain a job.
How did your sexual orientation impact you becoming homeless/your experience being homeless?
Because I am gay, I felt that I had to be less like who I really was. I hid my sexuality just so I would not be bullied or harassed. When I would go to shelters, I was extremely scared that someone would attack me if they found out I was gay.
How were you able to escape homelessness?
Fortunately, I was able to learn soft skills with one.n.ten and I got a job working with Whataburger as the main afternoon cook. I also moved to POND (Promise of a New Day), which is one.n.ten's transitional living. I had a wonderful supportive staff and case manager and learned independent life skills. They also help me get back into school at a local community college.
What would you like the general public to know about LGBTQ youth homelessness?
Don't give up on us and there are a lot of us that need your help. There are an estimated 21,200 LGBTQ+ homeless youth in the state of Arizona alone. You do not always have to help financially but some of us just need someone to talk to or just help need a ride to get a resource that we need. Lastly, do not dismiss us.
Do you have a message for LGBTQ youth who are currently experiencing homelessness?
Do not give up and make sure to ask for help from resources. That is one thing I regretted at the beginning. It took me a while to get into POND, not because there was a wait, but because I was afraid. Always be open and honest with the people you trust.