An Introduction to the Listening Tour Findings

LGBTQI2-S Youth are overrepresented among youth experiencing homelessness. Once on the street, they are at high risk for abuse, substance use, and mental health issues. To learn more about best practices for minimizing these risks and serving these vulnerable youth, HRC embarked on a Listening Tour of organizations. The findings of this Listening Tour are summarized in this article.

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.

Every year, an estimated 575,000 to 1.6 million unaccompanied youth between ages 12 to 17 experience homelessness in the United States1. It is estimated that between 20% and 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, or two-spirit (LGBTQI2-S) 2. These statistics can be sobering, especially when we begin to imagine a young person in our own lives facing the elevated risk factors of LGBTQI2-S youth experimenting homelessness, such as drug use, violence, sex work, mental health issues, and suicide.

In shelters, sexual and gender minority youth may be exposed to homophobic attitudes among staff and discrimination and harassment from their peers3. Hostile shelter situations lead many LGBT youth to life on the streets. Once on the street, youth who identify as LGBT are three times more likely to engage in “survival sex,” exchanging sex for anything needed than their heterosexual peers4. The literature also points to the extreme vulnerability of youth identifying as transgender. They appear to be at much greater risk for exploitation, drug abuse, survival sex, and HIV5.

Given the lack of specialized services available to this population, SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center (HRC) embarked on a listening tour of programs serving LGBTQI2-S youth experiencing homelessness. While there are a host of valuable resources outlining promising practices for working with sexual and gender minority youth, SAMHSA’s HRC wanted to explore the practical ways programs are implementing strategies and best practices to serve these vulnerable youth. To view existing resources on serving this population, visit HRC’s Topic Page on LGBTQI2-S Youth. We found that successful programs create adaptive, flexible solutions to their specific challenges.

This resource package highlights key findings of the listening tour. Click the links below, or review the package contents below, to learn more about the tour, lessons learned, and steps to improve services at your agency.

Develop Trusting Relationships by Fostering a Strengths-Based Approach: The first lesson learned is that creating an environment of acceptance and respect among providers and peers can help improve a youth’s self-esteem. Negative experiences can be transformed into strengths.

Develop Culturally Competent Staff: Youth who identify as LGBTQI2-S and experience homelessness may face discrimination and misunderstanding when accessing services. Hiring the right staff and providing cultural and linguistic competence training can help improve service delivery.

Empower Consumers: Sexual and gender minority youth provide an invaluable perspective about their service needs and preferences, and can act as effective ambassadors to their peers.

Design Responsive Services Interventions: The complex and unique needs of sexual and gender minority youth demand flexible, tailored programming. These can include adapted housing models, employment training, and safe and accepting environments.

Develop Community Partnerships: Connecting with agencies dedicated to LGBTQI2-S issues or homelessness issues can help provide positive role models and alternative safe spaces to LGBTQI2-S youth experiencing homelessness. Partnerships can also help providers with outreach.

Expand Public Awareness: Providing education about LGBTQI2-S youth and homelessness can help reduce stigma within communities.

A Story of Change: Youth on Fire: Gain a better understanding of the process of organizational change by examining one program’s success story.

Best-Practices for Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth: Existing Resources: Explore several existing documents recommending best practices for serving LGBTQI2-S youth.

Listening Tour Programs: Learn about each of the programs SAMHSA’s HRC selected for the Listening Tour. Programs exhibit geographic diversity and programmatic focus. They include:

  • Youth on Fire, Cambridge, MA
  • Larkin Street Youth Services, San Francisco, CA
  • Outside In, Portland, OR
  • The Ruth Ellis Center, Detroit, MI
  • UCAN Host Home Program, Chicago, IL
  • The Drop-In Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

Programs Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth: Click here for a list of programs across the country serving youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless.

Findings from the tour can also be found in the draft report, “Learning From the Field: Programs Serving Youth who are LGBTQI2-S and Experiencing Homelessness.” If you have comments for SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center about how to improve the Listening Tour report or would like targeted training about improving cultural competency in your agency, contact Laura Winn.


1 Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless
2 Robertson, M.J. & Toro, P.A. (1998). Homeless youth: Research, intervention, and policy. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 8, 2010, from Estimates that include young people age 18 to 24 suggest that 2 million youth experience homelessness. See National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2009). Ending Youth Homelessness Before It Begins: Prevention and Early Intervention Services for Older Adolescents. Washington, D.C.: National Alliance to End Homelessness.
3 Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
4 Van Leeuwen, J.M., Boyle, S., Salomonsen-Sautel, S., Baker, D.N., Garcia, J.T.,, A. & Hopfer, C.J. (2006). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual homeless youth: An eight-city public health perspective. Child Welfare, 85(2), 151-170.
5 Ryan, C. LGBT youth: Health concerns, services and care. Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs, 2003, 20(2):137-158.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA