They don’t all leave Fresno for San Francisco or Los Angeles. Among the “unaccompanied youth” and older teens wandering Fresno’s streets with nowhere to call home is an undetermined number of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids.
The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s ground-breaking examination of “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness” in 2006 reported that family conflict is the primary cause of homelessness for all youth-LGBT or straight. At least 50% of LGBT youth experience a negative reaction from their parents when they come out, and at least a quarter are thrown out of their homes. In 2005, the National Runaway Switchboard
estimated that up to 42% of homeless youth nationwide identify as gay or lesbian.
The California Research Bureau (CRB), an arm of the California State Library that provides nonpartisan research for the state government, released a report in March surveying homeless youth in California, including youth in Fresno. The survey of currently homeless youth was conducted by “their other currently and formerly homeless peers.” The majority of interviewees came from “the hardest to reach and least-studied populations-those who sleep on the streets or in cars, squat in abandoned buildings, or ‘couch-surf’-moving from house to house, often with periods on the street, without a stable address.”
The CRB survey confirmed the NCH/NGLTF findings that “the great majority of young people did not seek or choose to be homeless; they were pushed into it, either because their parents explicitly ‘kicked them out’ of home, or because abuse or family conflict forced them to leave.” Unlike the 2006 national study, the California survey revealed that only 5% of the youth interviewed said they became homeless because of their sexual orientation. However, because the survey did not specifically ask about sexual orientation, “it is quite possible the actual number is higher” than 5%.
How many homeless LGBT kids are there in Fresno?
It’s hard to tell. The 2005 Street Survey compiled by the local Continuum of Care did not break out “unaccompanied youth” under 18 (the group that would contain homeless underage youth) from the rest of the under-18s. However, some estimates from the 2007 survey, which included “unaccompanied youth” as a distinct category, are available. The 2007 survey stated there were 74: 49 in shelters and 25 out on the street. Even being conservative, it’s a reasonable estimate that at least 30 of the 74 are likely LGBT.
The Street Survey is no real help at estimating the number of LGBT youth ages 18 to 21 who are homeless in the city. The 2005 survey estimated there were 604 people identifying their sexual orientation as LGB or “other” homeless in the city of Fresno (assuming that the homeless make up one percent of the total population); however, the survey did not break these numbers down by age group. The survey also estimated there were 35 transsexual or transgender homeless in Fresno.
What is the impact of homelessness on LGBT youth?
According to the NCH/NGLTF research, “whether LGBT youth are homeless on the street or in temporary shelter, they face a multitude of ongoing crises that threaten their chances of becoming healthy, independent adults.” These crises include mental health issues, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, victimization and the potential of ending up in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Research indicates that 10%-20% of homeless youth in general consider themselves chemically dependent. Dependency rates are higher in the LGBT community generally-one in every three gay men is chemically dependent-so it’s more likely that queer homeless youth would have higher rates of chemical dependency.
“All homeless youth are especially vulnerable to engaging in risky sexual behavior,” says the NCH/NGLTF study, “because their basic needs for food and shelter are not being met. Defined as ‘exchanging sex for anything needed, including money, food, clothes, a place to stay or drugs,’ survival sex is the last resort for many LGBT homeless youth.” Survival sex often goes hand in hand with victimization. Homeless queer youth are, according to the National Runaway Switchboard, seven times more likely to be the victim of a crime than their straight peers. Homeless queer youth hang out in some of Fresno’s shopping areas and in the Tower District, looking for sex and places to stay. Like their “straight” peers, some end up becoming the victims of abuse and crime.
And Fresno County juvenile probation staff knows they have queer kids in the local system. Ollie Dimery-Ratliff, who directs detention at the county’s Juvenile Justice Campus, says that while staff doesn’t ask about sexual orientation as part of intake, some kids do self-report. How many of the kids were homeless before being detained isn’t known, according to juvenile justice officials.
So where do homeless youth go in Fresno if they want to get off the street?
The principal shelters in Fresno for youth under 18 are The Sanctuary and Craycroft Youth Center. The Sanctuary is run by the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, and Craycroft is a ministry of the Fresno Rescue Mission. The Rescue Mission also provides overnight shelter for men 18 and older.
The EOC provides emergency shelter for homeless youth ages 11 to 18, a street outreach, and transitional living for homeless youth ages 16 to 24. Craycroft provides shelter to youth under 18 for up to 30 days.
According to a foster care oversight committee review in the early 2000s, Craycroft would not accept youth with HIV/AIDS, youth who use alcohol or drugs or have been treated for alcohol or drugs, and youth who have “confusion with sexual identity” or have “inappropriate sexual behavior.”
It was announced in early February that Craycroft would be closing this July 1, after its emergency shelter contract with Fresno County was not renewed.