As our community finally begins to reckon with the appalling statistics of the growing homelessness crisis, we must advocate for those most acutely affected. The Los Angeles Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (hereafter, DSA-LA) writes to express deep concern with regard to actual and proposed city and county homelessness-abatement plans and their distinct lack of focused services for the LGBTQ+ youth population, for whom the crisis is especially pronounced. DSA-LA believes the marked increase in unhoused people stems directly from a dearth of affordable housing–a natural consequence of unfettered capitalism. While much ink has been exhausted exhorting for increased access to affordable housing, the strengthening of tenants’ rights, and broad rent control measures., the LGBTQ+ Caucus of DSA-LA focuses on the needs of one of society’s most marginalized populations.
While data is limited, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (called SOGIE) are not, as a rule, stringently recorded as is the case for other vital statistics — LBGTQ+ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system (one in five foster youth, here in LA). This in turn leads to an over-representation among homeless transitional age youth. Numerous reports show that these homeless children and young adults are at a greater risk for physical, verbal, and emotional abuse; contracting HIV; and trafficking. Local plans for housing transitional-age youth include an emphasis on “family reunification” despite the fact that hostile home environments are frequently the cause of homelessness for LGBTQ youth, beginning with separation from the child’s original guardians. Urging youth to return to their parents in these tragic circumstances violates the Department of Children and Family Services’ own recommendations for affirming SOGIE and is a contributory factor toward high suicide rates.
Last year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ordered county agencies to more closely examine this exact issue in an attempt to ascertain better solutions. Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency itself has held meetings in a church that maintains “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”The Catholic Church is currently involved in litigation to protect its desire to discriminate against transgender people: see Minton v Dignity Health.It is not hard to imagine LGBTQ+ people would feel unwelcome in such a meeting. Meeting in these spaces is a tacit endorsement of their preaching and needs to stop.
The current practice of allowing nonprofit organizations to be the lead agencies in the fight against homelessness creates barriers specific to LGBTQ+ youth. Consider first that the shift from public services to a reliance on nonprofits is a result of conservative efforts to curtail the work of public employee unions and to finance conservative organizations. Then, there are those nonprofits with a public track record of advocating against equal rights that still receive both governmental funding and charitable donations in the service of their disparate treatment. As nonprofits generally compete for government grants and private donations, the cracks in the capitalist system begin to show: instead of working together to support the community, the mere existence of those best able to donate to charity mirrors and reinforces the inequalities inherent to capitalism. Grant money is the “carrot” wielded by political parties. The economy ebbs, and vital services suffer.
It is 2019, 50 years after the Stonewall Riots. It is long past time to stand up for LGBTQ+ people. Now is the time to stand up especially for homeless LGBTQ+ youth and draw a line between bigoted organizations and state funds. LAHSA must reaffirm the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth. Services provided by LAHSA and its subcontractors should be carried out by unbiased, unionized civil servants. Reliance on religious nonprofits, in particular, results in the kind of anti-equality moralizing we’ve seen up to now. These problems are not the result of personal failings, as LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell recently suggested to ABC News, advising homeless youth to draw on an “inner reservoir of strength” and to “be smart.” The LGBTQ+ Caucus of DSA-LA calls on the city and county to develop solutions that enable our young, working class LGBTQ+ comrades to find homes.
The LGBTQ+ Caucus of the Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles Chapter, meets monthly. Check the chapter’s website dsa-la.org for future meetings, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org to join our mailing list.