LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Simulation

written by Andre Wade
December 26, 2012

Each year the Victory Institute gathers LGBT elected and appointed officials from across the nation for its LGBT International Leadership Conference, where they discuss issues facing the LGBT community. This year I was invited to talk to these decision makers about LGBT homelessness. It was a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of unaccompanied young people and, with such an esteemed group of individuals on hand, the occasion called for something more impactful than a typical PowerPoint presentation.

It was time to roll out the LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Simulation that Ed SanFilippo (the Alliance’s Policy Fellow) and I had been developing. The purpose of the simulation is to show participants the kind of unimaginable choices and dangers that homeless and runaway youth face. During the simulation, participants play the role of one of four LGBTQ youth of various ages, each of whom has distinct backgrounds and his or her own reasons for leaving the home. Throughout the simulation, participants:

  • Choose where they will attempt to sleep each night in the community;
  • Have experiences that result in their being labeled a substance abuser, prostitute, LGBT, homeless, trauma, criminal; etc.; and
  • Decide how to spend the money they may have, or how to obtain money to meet their basic needs for shelter and food.

Meanwhile, another participant plays the role of City/County Manager, tallying the estimated costs of homelessness to the community, which are based on the number of nights a youth stays on the street and the types of institution (e.g. jail, hospital), or homeless program (e.g. Host Home, Transitional Living Program, apartment) the youth accesses. (These costs are weighted according to the race and gender of the youth, as a way of illustrating the disparities in costs between different demographics.)

At the conference, the four LGBT political officials who volunteered to participate in the simulation struggled to make the same decisions that youth experiencing homelessness must make on a daily basis. They had to choose between sleeping outside or sleeping at a bus station; between using money to pay for motel room for the night, or saving that money for future needs; and they had to decide where to go when they were unable to access shelter services.

The feedback we received afterward was gratifying. It seemed we had conveyed the perils of youth homelessness to the participants and audience more compellingly than we would have with a typical ‘talking head’ presentation. Hopefully, the interactive format made the issue of youth homelessness less abstract a concept for them, and brought home its very real human cost.

One of our goals for the simulation is to inspire members of the LGBT community to become more responsive toward youth who may be out of the home as a consequence of their LGBT identity. There are always ways to help, such as serving as a host home provider or getting involved in advocacy. If as a community we want to encourage young people to come out, then we must be there for them when things at home don’t work out and these young people need us most.