A national study estimates 40 percent of homeless youths identify as LGBTQ, but outreach workers don’t know if that’s true in Honolulu.

That’s about to change.

The University of Hawaii Manoa’s Center on the Family has partnered with Waikiki Health’s Youth Outreach to survey Oahu’s homeless youth population to get a better idea of the composition of the group, including sexual orientation.

The Street Youth Study was designed to help outreach workers provide better service to homeless kids who aren’t living with a parent or any other kind of caretaker. Preliminary results will be released next month.

The latest Point in Time count released in May found 210 unaccompanied youths living on Oahu, and 160 of them were not living in shelters.

Waikiki Health Youth Outreach Program Coordinator Alika Camp and Program Manager Carla Houser stand in the pantry area of the outreach center. 29 may 2017
Hale Kipa Youth Outreach Program Coordinator Alika Campbell and Waikiki Health Youth Outreach Program Manager Carla Houser in the pantry of the outreach center. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In 2012, UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy published a study that estimated 40 percent of American homeless youths identify as LGBTQ, even though only 10 percent of the U.S. population is LGBTQ.

Preliminary findings from the Honolulu survey are expected to be released at the annual meeting of Hawaii Youth Services Network in July, said Sarah Yuan of the Center on the Family.

The center worked with Waikiki Health Youth Outreach program manager, Carla Houser, and Hale Kipa’s program coordinator, Alika Campbell, to conduct the survey of kids in Waikiki, Chinatown and in the homeless encampment in Waianae.

LGBTQ youths may be more likely to wind up homeless because they are kicked out or have run away from home when their families do not accept their sexual orientation, said Michael Golojuch Jr., chairman of the LGBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

Speaker Michael Golojuch Jr. at GLBT rally held at the Capitol. 27 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Michael Golojuch Jr. says LGBTQ youths are more likely to find themselves homeless. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

When an unaccompanied minor checks into a shelter, the facility must work toward reuniting the minor with a family or place the minor in foster care, Golojuch said.

The problem with that, he said, is that LGBTQ kids could get placed in a foster care household that is not accepting, and they run away again.

A collaboration between Hale Kipa and Waikiki Health, the Youth Outreach Program offers a drop-in service center for homeless youths. It’s a cozy, nondescript white house tucked away in Waikiki where young people can eat, use computers and shower.

“We try to make it an inclusive space for everyone,” said Houser. “Right now their sexuality is more fluid, so a lot of the dialogue is, ‘Just be you. If you want to try on girl’s clothes, try them on. Just be you.’”

Youths at the center also have access to lockers where they can store their belongings (including identification and other documents) a free clothing closet, laundry machines and medical services.

“We are lucky to have a medical health professional resource because if a kid is running away from their family, they might also be afraid to tell their family doctor, ‘I’m having sex with men,’” Houser said.

The outreach center serves about 500 homeless kids a year.

A survey that goes beyond the Point in Time count can pinpoint problems in the assistance system, Houser said.

“At a certain point the kids figure it is safer to be on the street than to be at home,” said Campbell, adding issues like abuse, cyclical poverty and drug addiction can all affect where they choose to live.

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