Up to 1.6 million youth experience homelessness each year. While that number alone is compelling, the nonprofit True Colors Fund also said that almost half of those youth (about 40 percent) identify as LGBT.
“Considering that LGBT youth represent an estimated 7 percent of the total youth population, these numbers are disproportionately high,” the New York City-based group states on its website.
With youth homelessness come a wide variety of challenges, one of which is the access to legal help and resources.
In Florida, a partnership has developed to address legal issues and options for homeless youth and their supporters. The coalition is publishing a “Homeless Youth Handbook” and companion website that is two years in the making. Law firm Baker McKenzie leads the partnership, which includes Disney, the American Bar Association’s “Homeless Youth Legal Network’s Pro Bono Project” and the Florida’s Children First organization.
The handbook launched April 13 at an event in Orlando. It includes a significant section on issues germane to LGBT youth, specifically.
The LGBT angle is a particular concern because advocates say those youth can be even more vulnerable than the general homeless youth population — at greater risk for victimization, unsafe sexual practices, and mental health issues, for example.
Robin Rosenberg is deputy director of Florida’s Children First. The statewide advocacy organization works on behalf of kids who are in foster care or in the child welfare system — many of whom are susceptible to homelessness.
“There is a substantial issue with young people who leave the child welfare system without a permanent family,” Rosenberg said. “They end up making their way in the world without a safety network,” she said.
Rosenberg said her group also helps young people understand their legal rights after they become adults.
“Our organization is part of the legal aid system in Florida. We train and support attorneys across the state who are directly working with young people,” she said, along with legislative advocacy.
“It’s one thing to get laws passed, but if kids can’t access [the benefits], it doesn’t help much,” Rosenberg said, partly in reference to the importance of the forthcoming handbook.
So she and Baker McKenzie, one of the leaders in pro bono work for homeless youth with a Miami office, direct people to HomelessYouth.org, where the Florida-specific information will be launched in tandem with the handbook, and kept updated.
Attorneys at Baker McKenzie and Disney worked on the chapters, while Florida’s Children First facilitated review by experts in the state on each of the topic areas.
Specifically regarding LGBT homeless youth, topic areas include employment and housing discrimination, foster care, temporary housing options (if you’re kicked out of your home), assault, abuse, hate crimes, free speech rights at school, civil rights (generally), military enrollment, gender transition, change of name, mental health issues and health care.
Rosenberg said those who access the handbook would discover many things they might not know, such as the fact that Florida offers free college tuition to homeless students.
“This resource is as much for people in the community who end up helping teens and young adults,” she added. “They know there should be something to help and don’t know what it is. The more people who know, the better,” Rosenberg said.