The epidemic of gay youth homelessness

Via the NY Indypendent:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 575,000 to 1.6 million homeless and runaway youth are living on the streets from New York City to Los Angeles. Of these, between 20 and 40 percent are LGBT , according to the 2007 seminal study, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness” by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

The study highlights a particularly dismal fact: Given that between 3 percent and 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual, it is clear that LGBT youth experience homelessness at a hugely disproportionate rate. LGBT youth homelessness is a hidden reality of 21st-century America. The stories of despair, high HIV rates and street murders continue to be under-reported and unaddressed. I wanted to know who these kids were and how they survived in New York City.

The numbers are bad enough. The anecdotes, drawn from the story from Sylvia’s Place LGBT youth shelter in Manhattan are heartbreaking:

Across the room Damien Corallo slouched in a chair, looking grim. Somebody had stolen his iPod. “Things are always getting stolen here,” he said. I sat down next to him and, just as Collazo had said, once I got him talking, he did not want to stop. When he was a kid, his father was sent to jail and his mother sent him and his two siblings from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New York City to live with his aunt. His brother was gay and Damien, who is transgender, had been dressing like a boy as long as he could remember.

“One day our aunt told us she didn’t want any faggots in the house. And we figured out that she had given our rights over to the state. So we left,” Corallo said. “I’ve lived in 32 group homes or foster homes. I’ve lived in shelters, halfway houses, safety houses. I’ve been into lock-up, stuck in residentials. I have been in every kind of home. I went to juvie for drugs. I used to inject drugs and snort coke. I was in for about a year. It was not friendly. It was a Missouri state jail and then I went to rehab.”

Corallo said he stayed in a group home on Long Island. Three years ago he moved to Sylvia’s, where he’s been ever since. On three occasions, he’s been beaten in what he described as “gay bashings.” He’s been called a faggot and a freak more times than he would like to remember. Somewhere along the line he contracted HIV, which has since turned into AIDS. He has attempted suicide more than once, and he relapsed, too — he’s got track marks up and down his arms and a chronic twitch. He is using crystal methamphetamines and heroin again. He said he wants to break the habit, but “I could never stay clean in this situation.” Corallo is 18 years old.


One Response

  1. Interesting fact to consider – those statistics regarding youth homelessness ONLY take into consideration those youth who find themselves staying in a shelter situation. Youth who stay with a relative who isn’t their legal guardian, stay with a significant other or friend on a temporary basis, “couch jump” from one night to another, or sleep outside aren’t considered in those statistics, so the real numbers are actually much larger.

    Of the youth we see at Project Q in Milwaukee (approx. 830 per year), about 75% of them are currently or have been previously homeless based on the criteria listed above (lived in a shelter, been in temporary foster care, couch hopped, slept outside or stayed with a non-guardian).

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