The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Sexual Orientation and Homelessness Among Middle School Students

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 5:00 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Riverview, Lower Parking Level, Elevator Level P1 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Eric Rice, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Robin Petering, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los ANgeles, CA
Anamika Barman-Adhikari, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Harmony Rhoades, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Hailey Winetrobe, MPH, CHES, Project Specialist, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Introduction:  Among 12-17 year olds, an estimated 7% spend at least one night homeless, be it in a shelter, on the streets, or in a stranger's home. Recent high school studies show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning or transgender youth   have a higher annual incidence of homeless experiences than their heterosexual peers.  To the best of our knowledge the current study is the first to use a probability sample of middle school students and examine the prevalence of homeless experiences and whether these experiences vary according to sexual orientiation and gender identity. 

Methods: A supplemental survey to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey containing questions regarding their past year homelessness experiences was administered to a random sample of Los Angeles Unified School District  sixth to eighth grade students (N=1,186).  Bivariate logistic regressions were conducted to assess the associations between identifying as a sexual minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning [LGBTQ]) with the likelihood of staying in a shelter, on the streets, or staying with strangers. 

Results: Average age was 12.29 (SD=0.85). Majority of youth identified as Hispanic (70%). 4.6% of youth identified as LBGTQ. Overall, 24.2% of heterosexual and 30.2% of LGBTQ youth experienced at least one night of homelessness in the past year. While 15.2% of heterosexual youth reported staying in a shelter, less than half of that number of LGBTQ youth (7.4%) reported doing the same. Four multivariate models assessed associations with any type of homelessness, staying in a shelter, with a stranger, and a public place. The covariates were kept the same across all analyses to assist in cross model comparison. Age and gender were significantly associated with experiencing any type of homelessness.  Age and sexual orientation were significantly associated with staying in a shelter. Specifically, older youth were  more likely to stay in a shelter (OR=1.05; 95% CI =1.02-1.09). Significantly, LGBTQ youth were 70% less likely to spend a night in a shelter relative to heterosexual youth (95% CI = 0.10-0.98).  Similar with staying with a stranger, younger youth were more likely to stay in a public place. Older youth were less likely to stay in a public place for one night (OR=0.89; 95% CI= 0.85-0.93). Identifying as LGBTQ significantly increased the likelihood of staying in a public place (OR= 5.29; 95% CI= 1.68-16.67). 

Discussions:  LGBTQ middle school students were more likely to spend time on the streets and less likely to spend time in shelters.  Shelter stays have consistently been shown to be protective relative to street stays for runaway and homeless youth.  School employees (teachers, staff, counselors, and principals) should discuss with any students who are at risk of homelessness about nearby services and shelters.  Middle school students themselves should be made of aware of homelessness resources.  Homeless service agency staff should work to reduce any real or perceived discrimination barriers and discuss these potential barriers with any young adolescents encountered during outreach.