“When you’re on the street, survival is more important than your dreams.”
Tina, a young person who wants to be an animator, said that as part of Urban Peak’s #thestoriestheycarry campaign. Tina also happens to be a young person experiencing homelessness, one of many in our community who are. In all of the statistics and opinions around homelessness, real lives like Tina’s are forgotten and the humanity of those living in poverty loses its poignancy.
Facts are facts, and we know poverty impacts LGBTQ Americans disproportionately more often than straight Americans. According to the [Williams Institute,] gay men are more than five percent more likely to live in poverty than straight men. Lesbians are only one percent more likely to live in poverty than straight women.
People of color are an intrinsic part of our community, but they also experience many obstacles in society that white people don’t have to. As in many intersectional communities, LGBTQ people of color are more likely to face discriminatory and unfair treatment across areas of life than white LGBTQ people.
According to One Colorado’s report “Facing Barriers: Experiences of LGBT People of Color in Colorado,” LGBTQ people of color are less like to have a college degree than white members of the community, and are more likely to work a full-time job but still have an average personal income of around $7,000 less than white people.
Queer people of color are more than twice as likely to experience discrimination in housing, are more likely to be bullied in school, and are 13 percent more likely to experience employment discrimination than white queer people.
If they are able to get a job, LGBTQ people of color are more likely to experience frequent anti-LGBTQ harassment while on the job. These discreet and often ignored aspects of discrimination in various aspects of public life contribute to an already exacerbated poverty epidemic that stretches from fair access to housing and education to health care and other social services.
Poverty is disproportionately felt by LGBTQ people of color, but poverty is also a disproportionately LGBTQ experience overall, especially when looking at homelessness.
Urban Peak is the only non-profit organization in Denver providing a “convergence” of services for 15 to 24 year olds experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness in the area. According to their website, 28 percent of those who accessed their services identified as LGBTQ, while the Williams Institute reported that 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness nationally is comprised of LGBTQ persons.
Urban Peak was the first organization to focus on youth experiencing homelessness in Denver. What started out in St. Pauls United Methodist Church in Capitol Hill in the late 1980s as little mats strewn across the church’s floor, has now become the go to resource for youth experiencing homelessness in both Denver and Colorado Springs.
Now 29 years old, the organization has a 40 bed youth shelter at Iowa and Acoma that caters to the ages of 14 to 21. There are also two rooms set aside for those experiencing extreme trauma or are transgender and don’t feel comfortable staying with the general public.
“We can support homeless shelters, food banks, and anti-poverty organizations, and ensure that they are LGBTQ+ inclusive,” said Scarlet Bowen, the Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at the University of Colorado. “We can advocate at our workplaces the importance of including gender identity and sexual orientation as valuable aspects of diversity.”
Homelessness is a complex societal problem with connections to many underlying systemic inequalities across life, and whether a person may currently be homeless is a pretty reliable indicator of whether someone is also currently in poverty.
Homelessness is a dangerous living situation to have to manage. Thirty percent of homeless youth will be actively recruited for purposes of sexual exploitation and other forms of human trafficking within two days of leaving home. So, homeless is as dangerous as it is indicative of poverty. However, homelessness is not the only indicator of poverty.
Another issue indicative of poverty that impacts our community is food insecurity. In Urban Peak’s #thestoriestheycarry campaign, one young woman pulled a bag of animal crackers out of her bag and said, “some see an afternoon snack. I see a week’s worth of meals.”
The [Williams Institute] defines food insecurity as a time when someone did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family. The Atlantic reported that while one in six American adults reported being food insecure in 2012, nearly one in three LGBTQ adults reported being food insecure in that same time — that rate is almost twice as high.
Fifty-nine percent of food-insecure households participated in one of three major federal food assistance programs, according to Feeding America. Many of these programs, which provide a substantial amount of critically needed calories to people everyday, are currently on the chopping block in budgets and policy proposals supported by Donald Trump and his administration, as well as by congressional leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan.
Food insecurity is yet another aspect of poverty that directly and disproportionately impacts LGBTQ families across our country.
One of the programs intended to alleviate some of food insecurity’s bitter consequences that Donald Trump and republicans in congress want to eliminate is funding for food stamps, the miniscule allotment of funds granted to the poorest families to support food purchases throughout the month.
According to data from the USDA, food stamps, which The Atlantic says same-sex couples are 1.7 times more likely to receive than different-sex couples, provide only as much as $357 per month to couples earning a maximum of $20,826 in Colorado.
Food insecurity and the complexity of homelessness are two of the most poignant indicators of poverty, and they are both social occurrences that disproportionately impact the health and vitality of our community.
Poverty has the potential power to keep people poor, sick, malnourished, and without formal education in a cyclical pattern that traps generations in the same socioeconomic situation. Maybe when we’re thinking about human’s rights for our community, we’ll start talking more about poverty, too.