Lived experience generates knowledge not available through formal education and training. If lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and young adults (YYA) experiencing homelessness are to be effectively engaged, their needs met, and their successful transition out of homelessness facilitated, they must be partners in the creation of solutions meant to help them. That means that everyone working to address LGBTQ YYA homelessness – including policymakers, government officials, advocates, researchers, and service providers – need to understand how to partner authentically with YYA experiencing homelessness. This article will introduce a framework for authentic YYA partnerships, describe the philosophy and values underlying the True Colors Fund’s successful partnerships with YYA, and provide examples of how YYA partnerships have informed our work, and as a result the communities we work with. It will discuss how, through the organization’s partnerships with YYA, we have recognized the importance of (1) broadening the narrative about LGBTQ youth homelessness to include the various intersecting reasons LGBTQ youth become homeless and (2) moving beyond a single paradigm of risk/victimization to include resilience and possibility.

Key Take Away Points

  • In order to effectively engage LGBTQ youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, meet their needs, and help facilitate their successful transition out of homelessness, they must be partners in the creation of solutions meant to help them.
  • Authentic YYA collaboration is about more than inviting a YYA to share the stories of their past; it’s also about providing the space for them to share their vision for the future.
  • The work of authentically partnering with YYA is not always easy, and can challenge commonly held (and often unconscious) beliefs about what YYA experiencing homelessness are capable of.

Author Biography

Jama Shelton, MSW, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. Dr. Shelton’s research examines the needs and experiences of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and the service providers with whom they work. In particular, Dr. Shelton is interested in identifying and addressing systemic barriers rooted in hetero/cissexism that frequently constrain the successful transition out of homelessness for LGBTQ youth and young adults. Previously, Dr. Shelton served as the Deputy Executive Director of the True Colors Fund. In this role, Dr. Shelton was engaged in systemic change efforts directly informed by years of direct practice experience. Having worked in the areas of clinical practice with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, as well as program development, evaluation, research, technical assistance and training, Dr. Shelton brings a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing both LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and also the service providers with whom they work. Most recently, Dr. Shelton co-edited the peer-reviewed text Where Am I Going to Go? Intersectional Approaches to Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada and the US, published by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press. Christa Price received her MSW from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College community organizing program in 2015. Since then she has been committed to advancing social justice and promoting social reform through macro social work and policy advocacy. As an associate program director at the True Colors Fund, Christa works primarily on integrating technology solutions into the organization's programmatic work. Phoebe VanCleefe is an executive committee member of the National Youth Forum on Homelessness, a youth homelessness subject-matter expert, a trans health activist, and a sex work advocate. She does this work to improve the lives of the often overlooked trans community, and to create healing spaces for herself in the process. She currently resides in Houston, TX.


We would like to acknowledge and thank all of the LGBTQ YYA who have shared their expertise with us. We hope to continue learning and partnering with you to effectively address LGBTQ YYA homelessness.