By Jama Shelton, LMSW, Ph.D., Forty To None project director



Jama Shelton

Jama Shelton

In America, it is estimated that up to 1.6 million youth are homeless each year, and up to 40 percent of them identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Yet, only up to 7 percent of the general youth population does the same. The Forty to None Project is working both proactively and reactively to address the issue and, ultimately, reduce the disproportionate percentage from 40 percent to none. It is asking the business sector to join the effort.

Through the Forty to None Project, the True Colors Fund — co-founded by singer-songwriter and LGBT activist Cyndi Lauper to inspire everyone to become active participants in the advancement of equality for all — is building a national movement to end LGBT youth homelessness.

The most frequently cited reason for LGBT youth’s housing status is identity-based family rejection. Additional factors include involvement in the child welfare system, poverty, abuse and neglect.

LGBT youth face many challenges — harassment, victimization, violence, social stigma and rejection, along with discrimination in families, schools, employment and social settings.

According to “Addressing the Needs of LGBT Youth Who Are Homeless,” a chapter in “Improving Emotional and Behavioral Outcomes for LGBT Youth, published by Brookes Publishing Co. in 2012 and authored by R.R. Kenney, S. K. Fisher, M. E. Grandin, J.B. Hanson and L.P. Winn, while homeless, LGBT youth are also at high risk for negative health outcomes, being bullied and dropping out of school.

The Forty to None Project was started to fill an important gap — there was no national organization focusing exclusively on LGBT youth homelessness. Since its launch, it has been joining forces with key allies to reframe the conversation about this issue and develop innovative solutions to prevent and address LGBT youth homelessness at the national level. And, it is taking its progress at the national level and bringing it to communities around the country.

For example, the Forty to None Project is partnering with the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education and Justice, as well as the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, on the National LGBTQ Youth Homeless Prevention Initiative in two communities — Hamilton County, Ohio, and Harris County, Texas. The initiative’s primary goal is to prevent and end homelessness among LGBTQ youth and to intervene early when homelessness occurs for these youth. Additional goals include facilitating greater local collaboration between stakeholders working with youth and informing local and national strategies for preventing homelessness among LGBTQ youth.

In addition to these two communities, the Forty to None Project is also beginning to support local community-based coalitions comprised of LGBT young people, service providers, educators, local government officials and representatives from juvenile justice, child welfare and other youth-serving systems in Miami, Nashville and Chicago. Because LGBT youth are disproportionately represented across a number of systems, cross-system support and engagement are critical to adequately address the needs of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness.

Wondering how the business sector can get involved? Here are three of many possibilities:

Join the Forty to None Network. The goal of the network is to bolster greater systemic capacity, communication and collaboration by engaging a broad range of advocates and community members to create lasting change, not only across systems of support, but also across entire communities. The network includes service providers, community and civic leaders, researchers, librarians, funders and youth.

Volunteer for the Annual Homeless Point-In-Time Count. Ask to work specifically on the youth count effort. While some communities are still figuring out how to best count youth to meet the 2015 directive to begin counting, this annual count provides an ideal opportunity for volunteers to get involved in ending LGBT youth homelessness. All youth experiencing homelessness — and LGBT youth in particular — must be accurately counted in order to adequately scale solutions to solve the problem.

Partner with a Local Service Provider to Develop an Apprenticeship Program for LGBT Youth.

The longer the problem of LGBT youth homelessness is overlooked, the greater the cost to society will be. In addition to lost revenue, lost tax dollars and the cost of social services, the next generation of talented, intelligent and creative people may be lost. For more information, please visit

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