Imagine being a young person and being kicked out of your home for being "different". Imagine finding a shred of hope in a welcoming shelter with other young people struggling with similar experiences. Then imagine feeling in danger of this hope and shelter being taken away. Imagine worrying that you will once again be thrown away, back to the streets. That some of your only means of survival is to engage in risky behaviors. To feel you have no other choice but to risk your health and safety just for a meal or a place to sleep.
Homeless youth, as a population, are some of the most disenfranchised individuals in our country. Many of these young people are also LGBTQ, which adds another level of vulnerability and stigma. The risks of these teens are countless, including drug abuse, violence, contraction of HIV and other STIs, and ultimately death. To make things worse, this subculture is often hidden and ignored. Recently there was a good piece written by the Associated Press that brought light to the many struggles of these young kids. We need to continue to raise awareness.
What is so difficult to comprehend is that many LGBTQ youth are homeless because they are rejected by those who are supposed to love them no matter what. Many of these kids were told by their caregivers that they are no longer welcome in their own home with their family. They literally are thrown out onto the streets because of who they are. In addition, there are other youths who feel they need to flee from their home in order to protect themselves. Perhaps a parent knows his child is gay and proceeds to abuse her relentlessly. She may leave home in the hope of escaping the abuse. She may feel it is safer to risk survival on the streets than to stay at home with consistent and severe abuse.
When we hear about young people living away from their home, we tend to lump them all together with the term "Runaway." Our society is quick to judge these kids as the problem - that they ran away from home because they were disrespectful and unable to tolerate authority. Yet the reality is that most homeless youth are living on the streets because they were kicked out of their homes, or they feel so unsafe living with their caregivers who do not accept them as they are. The more accurate term for these youth is "Throwaways."
Homeless LGBTQ youth are at a severely high risk of engaging in self-destructive behaviors as a means to survive. The practice of "survival sex" is common among them as literally a means of living to see the next day. The risk of contracting HIV is high among this group because of the risky behaviors. Condom negotiation often cannot even be factored in since a young person may be forced to choose between engaging in a sexual activity without a condom or spending the night outside. This is no choice at all. There is also a greater risk of violence and abuse, even within homeless shelters. Rape, forced drug use and other dangers increase the risk of exposure to HIV. Factor in a lack of resources and the strong instinct to survive and it's a formula for utter hopelessness and disaster.
We need to provide support, safe housing, food and other necessities to ALL of our youth to ensure they do not have to turn to unsafe survival mechanisms that could eventually lead to further spread of HIV and other STIs. Yet, unfortunately in recent years, funding has been cut to these supportive youth services, including in areas like New York City.
We cannot allow this to happen. Our children deserve so much better than this. They deserve a chance at a future.