A new census of the District’s homeless youth population found that 43 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the city announced Wednesday.
In August, the Homeless Youth Census, the first such survey in the city’s history, counted 330 homeless youths who were either on the streets, in a housing program or otherwise without a permanent home.
In releasing the results, the city also announced $45,000 in grants from Verizon to two nonprofit organizations that serve LGBT youth, along with five grants, each of approximately $5,000, from the city to organizations that serve LGBT youth. Those are in addition to an increase last September of $1.3 million in city funding to address the problems of single homeless youth, bringing the total annual budget for homeless youth programs to over $5 million.
“We know that these young people face the most bullying and discrimination and assault, you name it, not only from the outside world but often from their own families, neighbors and close associates,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Wednesday at Casa Ruby, an LGBT homeless youth organization which received one of the grants awarded through the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.
The District may have a particularly high number of homeless LGBT youth because it is seen as more welcoming than other places, Ruby Corado, executive director of Casa Ruby, said. The census did not ask where the homeless youth came from, but she estimated that 70 percent come from outside the District.
“We’re in the nation’s capital, a city that is traditionally and now becoming one of the friendliest LGBT cities in the country,” she said. “People across the country just want to survive, so they hear about D.C. . . . and they see a local solution for a national problem.”
Homeless youths are not always visible; many homeless young people couch-surf or otherwise fall through the cracks. Other organizations trying to help homeless youth include Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Covenant House Catholic Charities and the Latin American Youth Center.
But beds allocated specifically for LGBT youth are scarce. Until last year, the city funded 20 at Casa Ruby and the Wanda Alston House, which provides housing and support to at-risk LGBT youth. Last year’s increase of $1.3 million also included funding for five new crisis beds and 16 new hypothermia beds at Casa Ruby, which receives $700,000 annually from the city.
That money also added 20 transitional housing beds for homeless youth; previously there were around 100 youth-specific beds. Additional beds across the city are funded by private and federal sources.
But advocates say it is not nearly enough. A University of Nebraska survey of 60 homeless youths in the District found that many don’t go to shelters, either because they don’t know about them or are too embarrassed, or because the shelters are full.
The city’s latest number underestimates the number of homeless youth, said Corado.
Still, she said, the city is going in the right direction by taking an interest in the problem.
“There is a plan. Prior to this, there was no plan. There was not even numbers.”
Nicki Williams, 24, who is transgender, came to Casa Ruby after being released from prison.
“I know a lot of people out there who are homeless,” she said. “I think the city should be doing more, and there should be a lot more outreach, because a lot of youth don’t know about this place.”
Other recipients of the city’s grant money include Wanda Alston House; HIPS DC, which provides health services to people involved with sex work and drug use; Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which helps homeless, runaway, abused and neglected kids; and the DC Center for the LGBT Community. Wanda Alston House also received $20,000 from Verizon, and Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders received $25,000.