Design Responsive Services Interventions

Youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S have diverse needs demanding adaptive services. This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless.

This page is part of resource package created to help programs better serve youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless. It was derived from the results of a Listening Tour of programs serving this population. Visit the Listening Tour Page for more information, or read the draft report: Learning from the Field: Programs Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth Experiencing Homelessness.

Youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S have diverse needs. SAMHSA’s HRC learned that many programs on the Listening Tour have adapted programs and strategies to best respond to these needs.

Key lessons learned for designing responsive service interventions include:

Create transitional housing programs that meet the unique needs of LGBTQI2-S youth.

Larkin Street Youth Services has created a transitional housing model to provide a home setting for LGBTQI2-S identified youth transitioning out of homelessness. Castro Housing is located in a traditionally LGBT neighborhood in San Francisco. It offers 22 units of housing with single room occupancy units in a hotel and scattered site apartments. The program offers services geared to gender and sexual minority youth. Housing is based on a “structured home” model, defined as an environment developed in collaboration among youth and house staff. Many shelters and housing programs for youth are sex-segregated and require transgender youth to stay in spaces that may be inappropriate or unsafe. In contrast, Castro Housing offers a more flexible approach. Youth determine where they wish to stay, rather than being assigned based on their sex at birth. All bathrooms are unlabeled. Staff working at Larkin Street Youth Services’ Castro Housing shared: “Housing programs must be broad enough to encompass all youth. One of the important aspects of our housing program is that there aren’t just [spaces for] two genders. We have separate spaces for people who identify as male and people who identify as female. But we have other spaces, too. However, we do have gender separated housing in our other mainstream housing options, available to everyone.”

Develop housing options that model healthy home environments.

Youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S leave home at higher rates than their straight peers. Once homeless, they may face discriminatory shelter and transitional housing policies, hostility from shelter staff, or harassment from other youth. There is a need to provide safe, supportive housing paired with caring adults to model healthy home environments. The UCAN Host Home Program sought to respond to this need by creating an alternative to the shelter system for LGBTQI2-S youth. The Host Home model was pioneered by The GLBT Host Home Program in Minneapolis, MN. Host Home programs recruit, screen, train, and support adults who open their homes to LGBT youth in need of safe and stable housing. The UCAN program serves youth ages 18-24. Both the youth and prospective host families are screened extensively. Host Homes are provided with training and support by UCAN’s clinical staff.

The Executive Director of the UCAN Host Home Program explained that the Host Home model offers safe and accepting homes for youth who have been rejected by their family of origin. The UCAN staff emphasized that host homes provide a low cost strategy for youth who are ready to live more independently, but still need the support of caring adults. “Within four months of living in a host home, our first youth made so much more progress than [he would have] in the shelter system. The host was able to tell him, ‘I’m not getting paid for this. I chose you, just as you chose me.’ That’s the healing. For a low cost, compared to traditional settings, he gets a community,” the Director shared.

The Ruth Ellis Center also recognizes the importance of home for LGBTQI2-S youth. “We try to employ a home life setting as much as possible in our housing program, The Ruth House. We have ten beds in a duplex, with five youth on each side. Typically each youth has a roommate. Youth have to be divided by their biological gender, according to our funding,” staff explained. However, the small-scale, home-like setting allows youth to learn to live with others while embracing their own identities. A young person staying at The Ruth House explained, “It’s a big huge family. I don’t really know my real family so I’ve been out there looking for people to be my family. When they give me a hard time about my appointments, my chores, it’s difficult. But I take that, and I hold on to it. Because that’s what it’s all about it.”

Understand the challenges to LGBTQI2-S youth employment.

Finding consistent employment for any young person lacking skills and stable housing is an overwhelming challenge, especially in the context of the economic recession. Youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S face even more barriers to employment, since they may encounter discrimination from prospective employers on the basis of their sexual or gender identity. Many of the youth who spoke with SAMHSA felt they had to hide who they are in order to obtain employment. Providers shared that employment was a significant barrier for their LGBTQI2-S participants, particularly transgender youth. All of the programs SAMHSA spoke with offered some level of employment services, including skills development, resume support, and placement programs. However, many felt that these services were not fully meeting the needs of LGBTQI2-S youth. Staff emphasized the importance of building relationships with potential employers to identify potential positive working environments for LGBTQI2-S youth.

The Drop-In Center at Tulane recognizes the challenges of helping LGBTQI2-S youth obtain employment. “So many doors are shut on them. It makes you want to go above and beyond. For example, I have a job for a kid, but they have to dress a certain way to get the job. I don’t want [youth] to hide who they are, but they also have to fit in to get a job.” One young person who identified as gender-queer explained, “I’ve been at a point where I put on a dress for a secretary position. Those are the extremes we have to go through just to provide for ourselves. It’s rough on our self-esteem, always asking, ‘is this who I am?’ just to make a living. A lot of times we’ve been pounded down so many times, it’s easier to quit.”

Use a strengths-based approach to prepare youth for employment.

“Some transgender youth feel like all they can do is sex work. We try to show them other strengths, and how to use them successfully in the job market,” shared one service provider. Larkin Street Youth Services emphasizes the importance of helping prepare youth for employment. “We have a completely diverse group of youth in the employment program. It normalizes the job search situation for everyone. Youth who think they are having trouble [finding a job] because they are LGBT will see that there is more to the picture. It’s also the job market.” Larkin Street staff also work to build confidence in young people who have trouble imagining success in the mainstream job market. “There is a ceiling that they’ve experienced in their lives before they come here. They have to live a lie. They feel like because of who they are they can only do so much. Then they come here and hear us ask, ‘Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?’ We try to turn all of the past experiences that youth have into real-world skills and strengths. This is particularly true for transgender youth.”

Develop relationships with employers.

The UCAN Host Home Program explained that building relationships can expand employment opportunities for transgender youth. “It’s been about finding allies. We know that even if you find a position, it might not be a healthy place for the young person. Even in cases where the supervisor is an advocate for the youth, peers can create a negative experience.” Outside In focuses on keeping the lines of communication open with employers. Staff emphasized that it is time-consuming to keep track of places of employment that are accepting of LGBTQI2-S youth, but it is important work. Outside In developed a relationship with the Portland Business Alliance. “Through that connection we developed great partners who understood the importance of being role models for our youth.”

Develop training programs for employers and co-workers.

Larkin Street Youth Services believes that training the employer is just as important as training the youth. The program engages an employer in two months of training and assessment, recognizing that relationships with co-workers can be just as impactful as relationships with supervisors. “When the employers think of youth who experience homelessness they think of drugs, AIDS, and mental health issues. We work with them to change their frame of reference. All you have to have is an employer who is willing to listen. There are good people everywhere. You just have to find them and build a dialogue,“ reported Larkin Street Youth Services staff.

Create culturally appropriate, welcoming service environments.

Many Listening Tour programs invest in creating culturally appropriate service environments. This includes overtly displaying sexual and gender minority symbols (e.g. pink triangle or rainbow flag). Larkin Street Youth Services considers the impact that the “built environment” has on the youth they serve. “We recognize that youth need a space that invites them, speaks to them, and encourages them to really be themselves.” Outside In suggests that creating a culturally appropriate and accepting environment “goes beyond the ‘pink triangle’ decal.” They make it an important part of their organizational mission to encourage a collective culture of acceptance and support. With culturally competent staff training and a zero-tolerance hate-speech policy, Outside In works to foster accepting language and attitudes. “We make it a big part of our mission to really let youth know that we are a LGBTQ-friendly and accepting place.”

The Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC), a partner agency of Outside In, believes that one concrete way an organization can create a culturally appropriate environment is to facilitate gender-neutral bathrooms. “The message you share with your clients is stronger in actions than words. Having gender neutral bathrooms is a concrete method to align your words and actions to really culturally support transgender youth.”

Train providers in Motivational Interviewing and trauma-informed care.

Many programs found that training in trauma-informed care and Motivational Interviewing is particularly useful when working with this population. Youth on Fire emphasized that trauma-informed care is “…particularly key for queer issues because of the intense proportion of trauma they face.” Outside In found training in Motivational Interviewing useful because it “peels away the layers of the onion” among LGBT youth experiencing homelessness. Visit the HRC Topic Pages on Motivational Interviewing and Trauma-Informed Care to learn more.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA