Updated: Feb 24
This study is the first to provide estimates of the percentage of sexual and gender minority adults experiencing homelessness compared to cisgender straight adults using representative national data. We provide estimates of homelessness (both recent experiences and lifetime prevalence) from three nationally representative surveys of U.S. adults conducted between 2016 and 2019 measuring sexual orientation and gender identity.
We examined the proportion of people who had recent experiences with homelessness (in the form of living temporarily with friends or family, living in a shelter or group home, or living in a place not intended for housing such as on the street, park, car, or abandoned building) in the 12 months prior to being surveyed. We found that:
8% of transgender adults across all sexual orientation identities;
3% of cisgender and genderqueer sexual minority adults;
and 1% of cisgender straight adults reported indicators of recent homelessness.
Among sexual minority adults, African American respondents had significantly higher rates (6%) of recent housing instability.
We also assessed the proportion of people who had experienced homelessness at any time in their life (measured only among cisgender and genderqueer sexual minority adults). We found that:
17% of sexual minority adults reported they experienced lifetime homelessness, which is more than twice what we have found in a general population study.
Most respondents (71%) who had ever experienced homelessness did so as adults.
The study findings support concerns that homelessness is experienced at disproportional rates among sexual and gender minority people.
The assumption of overrepresentation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people among those experiencing homelessness is widely discussed by policymakers and advocates, but very few studies have documented this using methods that reliably produce population estimates.1 Previous reports by the Williams Institute are often cited, but even these have been limited to reports of service providers surveyed using convenience sampling methods at the organizational level.2 Further, most work focused on this topic estimated youth homelessness and not the experience of homelessness throughout adulthood.3 We know that in California, approximately 25% of youth in schools who report forms of unstable housing are LGBT.4 Nationally, one study estimated that 22% of youth experiencing homelessness across 22 U.S. counties are LGB.5 Regarding adults, there are no nationally representative datasets of the population of people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity that include measures of sexual orientation and gender identity.
There is no singular definition of homelessness guiding a federal response to this problem.6 However, because even a single experience of being without permanent shelter can have negative impacts on health and economic stability,7 we adopt here the expanded view of homelessness in line with other researchers studying this issue among LGBT youth and adults,8 which includes multiple indicators of housing instability such as living on the streets, in shelters, and in other types of temporary situations (e.g., couch surfing, group homes). Other related terms for this social issue include “unstably housed” and “housing instability”; here, we use these interchangeably with “homelessness” as a way to represent an experience that people may have for various periods of time in their lives, and not as a demographic variable or personal characteristic.
Ideally, we would know how many adults who are unstably housed are LGBT because this would help us understand the relevance of sexual orientation and gender identity for those who currently need services.
However, another way to understand whether sexual orientation and gender identity matter in efforts to reduce homelessness is to examine whether sexual and gender minority people experience housing instability at different rates than cisgender heterosexual people. We provide data on homelessness (both recent experiences and lifetime prevalence) from three nationally representative surveys of U.S. adults measuring sexual orientation and gender identity. These three surveys conducted through the Generations Study and TransPop Study provide estimates of homelessness among transgender people (of all sexual orientations), sexual minorities (who are cisgender and genderqueer, but not transgender-identified), and cisgender heterosexual (straight) people. See the Methods Note for details regarding the studies from which the data were drawn.
Recent Experiences with Homelessness Among Sexual and Gender Minority Adults