This week, I’m answering the second part of Chris M.’s question about LGBTQ2 people and homelessness: While we have some information on LGBTQ2 youth, have we explored adult populations? (Read the first part: What considerations should be given when looking at gender and sexual identity?)

As Chris pointed out, the bulk of recent research in this area is focused on youth. There are a few explanations for this listed in our LGBTQ2 section, including: “the large percentage of ‘out’ youth compared to the adult population, the distinct needs youth face compared to adults and the fact that family rejection is a major contributing factor to LGBTQ2 youth homelessness.” As our ideas and values about sexual and gender identities progress and broaden, it becomes more common for people to be open about identifying as LGBTQ2 – which, combined with a growing LGBTQ2 homelessness problem, has prompted researchers to deepen our knowledge base. This base is, however, heavily focused on youth.

That said, we do have some information on homelessness as it relates to LGBTQ2 adults.

David Campa at Jazzie's Place openingWhat we do know

While the causes of homelessness for youth and adults can sometimes look very different, systemic discrimination and non-acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQ2 is, unfortunately, still a major issue for both groups. The National LGBTQ Task Force in the United States asserts that LGBTQ2 adults “are also vulnerable to homelessness because of a widespread lack of nondiscrimination protections.” Older LGBTQ2 people are more likely to have spent longer periods of time not being “out,” and many have families.

Systemic discrimination and other negative experiences can have huge impacts on mental and physical health, which are deeply interconnected with experiences of homelessness. As Rainbow Health Ontario points out, while LGBTQ2 people have the same health concerns as anyone else:

…these health needs may be experienced quite differently. Due in part to negative past experiences, many LGBTQ people may delay or avoid seeking health care or choose to withhold personal information from health care providers. In general, LGBTQ people end up receiving less quality health care than the population as a whole.

Like youth, those who access shelter services too often face violence, discrimination and abuse. A 2012 toolkit on LGBTQ2 health from SAMSHA outlines some of the major service changes needed as:

…increasing social inclusion and reducing discrimination; preventing suicides and suicide attempts among LGBT youth; developing culturally relevant materials related to trauma and military service; and reducing disparities in access to—and quality of—behavioral healthcare services.

Of course, not everyone under the “LGBTQ2” designation experiences the same issues to the same degree. For example, a study with two-spirited people in northern Manitoba discovered that participants who also identified as Aboriginal reported higher rates of poverty, as well as concerns, needs and experiences related to living in poverty. This is consistent with many findings that Aboriginal Peoples are over-represented in the homelessness population and who must also contend with historical and ongoing colonization, trauma, oppression and discrimination.

Transgender and gender non-conforming people also experience high rates of discrimination that extend into every area of their lives. Nearly one-fifth of respondents in a 2011 U.S. study reported experiencing homelessness at least once and 2% were currently homeless (in the general population, this is around 1%). Of respondents who attempted to access shelters, 55% were harassed by other residents or staff, 29% were denied service and 22% were sexually assaulted by residents or staff. Furthermore, the authors of the study note that the combination of transphobia and structural racism is particularly stark, with trans people of colour reporting more negative outcomes in almost every area.

While there are a great many issues that LGBTQ2 adults face, improvements are on the rise. Many housing services and shelters are receiving training and changing their service delivery/policies to be inclusive of LGBTQ2 folks. And in June of this year, the first shelter in the U.S. specifically for LGBTQ2 adults opened in San Francisco (photo above is supervisor Dave Campos at the grand opening) called Jazzie's Place, after tireless trans and economic equality activist Jazzie Collins. According to a story for Inquisitr, nearly 30% of people experiencing homelessness in the city identify as LGBTQ2.

Older LGBTQ adults

There is a lack of focus and attention on older adults who identify as LGBTQ2, which is an important and growing population. A 2011 exploratory study in the U.S. found that many older adults choose LGBTQ2 specific retirement housing, when available, because of higher rates of acceptance. This is consistent with findings that LGBTQ2 youth prefer housing where they can comfortably and safely be themselves. These findings suggest that explicitly LGBTQ2 housing and a sense of belonging are very important to people with these identities.

The National Resource Center for LGBT Aging also has a number of good resources related to issues around aging, affordable housing and homelessness when it comes to older adults.

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.

Photo credit: SF Examiner/Natasha Dangond