Federal nondiscrimination protections would go a long way toward helping.
It’s a no-brainer that every person in our country should be able to access a safe place to sleep and build their lives – but the reality is that right now, in North Carolina and nationwide, we’re facing a crisis of homelessness and housing insecurity.
The crisis is disproportionately impacting our young people, especially youth who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, nationally, LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely than non-LGBTQ young people to experience homelessness.
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I deal with this each and every day in my role as the Executive Director of Time Out Youth, an organization that serves LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24 in Charlotte. I’ve served as a social worker with this population for years, and housing is always one of the most urgent issues.
The stories we hear are often depressingly familiar.
Young people sometimes find themselves homeless because of a lack of family acceptance and understanding about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Others feel so uncomfortable with family that living on the street or in their car seems like the best option, rather than compromising on who they are.
Some lost housing during the pandemic.
Many others, especially aging out youth older than 18, and especially those who are Black or Brown, experience direct discrimination from landlords. I’ve seen religious rejection over and over again. Recently, an 11-year-old called us who had been kicked out of the house. It’s staggering.
We do our best to offset the impacts of this discrimination and harassment. At Time Out Youth we offer housing assistance that helps connect our clients with short-term or long-term housings, whether through foster parent placement, shelters, or other solutions.
We know that if a young person isn’t housed, the foundation simply won’t be there for them to succeed in any other way. If you don’t have anywhere to sleep, how are you going to keep a job? How are you going to build a supportive and safe social network? How are you going to tend to your mental health and your passions? You basically can’t. Housing instability is such a profound and impenetrable barrier to everything else we want and need in life.
My favorite thing about being a social worker is trying to reduce obstacles. Our systems are not always successful at that – and this specific issue will require many interventions.
But one critical action step we can take right now is to pass federal legislation that would establish comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. The move would fill in major gaps here in North Carolina; while 16 municipal governments passed local protections in 2021, two-thirds of the state still lives in a jurisdiction without protections.
It would also ensure that federally funded programs, like many youth homelessness services, follow LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies: right now they’re not required to, and we hear stories of discrimination from our youth all the time.
I am eager for North Carolina’s U.S. Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to work with their colleagues in the Senate to pass the strongest possible protections for LGBTQ people. We should all be doing everything in our power to ensure that our state and country are a place where everyone can thrive and make a life for themselves, and that includes LGBTQ young people.
The young people I work with here in North Carolina just want to feel welcome – but at the end of the day, they just, very functionally, want to be able to live their lives.
They want to apply for jobs and get them. They want to be their authentic selves at work. They want to have families and lives, to live proudly without having to defend themselves. They want opportunity – just like everyone else – and want to move a little closer to a life that’s not marked by constant struggle. They want to be able to see their future here in North Carolina. But right now, it’s hard to visualize that future.
The lack of nondiscrimination protections is one key barrier.
I’m so proud of how much our team at Time Out Youth accomplishes, and our young people truly tell us all the time that we are changing their lives. But when they leave us, what world are they entering?
We all have a responsibility to facilitate a world where people’s basic human needs are met. Right now, that responsibility requires us to pass nondiscrimination protections at the federal level. It will bring us one major step toward ensuring that these amazing young people can go on to change the world. I know they can, if they’re just given the chance.