Bogus information, used to forward an agenda, really ticks me off. I have no problem with agendas, everyone’s got them, and we need them to get things done. But misrepresenting an agenda? Please, just don’t.
First, lets admit the facts. Some homeless people are gay. Some homeless youth are gay. Some gay youth are homeless because their parents kicked them out, just for being gay. Those are the facts. Everything else that has been said, especially recently, about the number of homeless gay youth, is baloney.
There is only one thing a scientific study can do. It can prove an idea, or it cannot. What studies can’t do is “suggest” things. Using the phrase “studies suggest” is used by scientists and others with a bias towards a particular concept that they wish to prove. What that phrase actually means is, “we conducted a study, but it didn’t prove what we hoped it would, yet we still want you to believe in our premise, regardless.”
There is other deceptive terminology used by people hoping to convince the general public that they have proved some idea, such as the phrase, “up to” Ever seen an advertisement declaring something is “up to” 40 percent off? But when you get to the store you find that things are actually only 10 to 20 percent off? When you ask the about the 40 percent off items, the store clerk tells you that they either already sold out of those items, or that they are items that nobody would want to buy. They stretched th truth just to get you into the store and buy something. In science, there is no such thing as “stretching the truth”, either something is true, or it is not true. There is no in-between. There is no “maybe”.
Thank you for indulging me while I ranted. Now consider this paragraph I found recently at the USICH.gov blog:
“A growing body of research suggests that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth make up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population in the United States…”
To me, this “growing body of research” seems a bit far fetched, when I consider my 14+ years experience of living homeless. From what I’ve seen, the percentage of gay homeless people, including gay teens, is approximately the same at the general gay population.
Also, “growing body of research” implies that several studies have been conducted. If after several studies, the best that scientist can claim is that “research suggests”, wouldn’t this actually indicate that their hypothesis is incorrect? There is a problem these days with people conducting studies that don’t prove what they hoped was true. Instead of just accepting what facts were discovered by their study, they continue creating studies (with certain variations), hoping one day to prove their point.
This reflects on what is happening in the larger picture of homeless advocacy. The homeless population is sliced and diced (metaphorically speaking) by all sorts of interest groups. There are groups that deal with only homeless veterans, groups that deal only with alcoholics, groups that deal only with homeless women who are also prostitutes, groups that deal only with homeless families with children under a certain age, groups that only deal with homeless youth, groups that deal only with “duel diagnosed” homeless people, (people who suffer both, mental illness and drug addiction), etc., etc. All these special interest groups work to get “their” people off the streets, to the exclusion of all others. The biggest problem of all this being that many homeless people don’t fit into any of these specialized groups. Homeless people are people who have fallen through the cracks of the social safety network. But, even these cracks have cracks, and for this, the needs of a lot of homeless people are overlooked, if not completely ignored.
There are a couple of other problems as well. As with the issue of gay homeless youth, a big PR push is underway bring this issue to the forefront of homeless services. In response, homeless service providers are dedicating some of their already limited resources toward finding and catering to the needs of this “suggested” homeless population. This results in less resources being available to the general homeless population. Another problem that arises from all these specialized services is that many homeless people, desperate for help, will be less than honest about their own condition and needs. This in turn skews with the knowledge base that homeless service providers work with. There was a homeless service provider here in town that used to offer a free apartment to homeless people who were duel diagnosed. When work of this got out to the general homeless population, many homeless people applied for help with them, lying about their actual condition. Mentally ill homeless people were claiming to also be addicts, addicts were claiming to also be mentally ill. etc. When word gets out to the homeless youth population that they can receive additional, better, or even housing services, if they happen to be gay, many youths will be claiming to be gay, when they actually are not.
Often, when the homeless population is being surveyed, the people conducting the survey will offer compensation to the homeless for their time. This compensation could be anything from food, to a free bus pass, to cash. When someone comes to a shelter saying “I want to survey those homeless who are mentally ill” you’d be surprised how many homeless people will come forward declaring that they are mentally ill.
I’m sorry, but you just cannot get good data that way. Bad data will always translate into poor services for the homeless.