Recognizing the Diversity of Individuals who Experience Homelessness: Results from the LGBTQ2S Adult Housing Needs Assessment
We often think of homelessness as something that transcends certain demographic markers, such as age, gender, and sexual orientation. To a certain degree, this is true. Individuals experiencing homelessness are unified by a singular characteristic: the lack of safe, adequate, and affordable housing.
With this being said, it is also important to recognize that the right to housing should include having choice in the type of housing one life in. Generalized, “one size fits all” solutions will not necessarily work for everyone who experiences homelessness. For example, we know that the response to youth homelessness is different than adult homelessness and that the experience of homelessness is different among Indigenous Peoples compared to non-Indigenous individuals. We also know that LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two-Spirit) youth have a different experience of homelessness than non-LGBTQ2S youth, particularly as it relates to service use experiences.
Therefore, housing interventions that address the multiple layers of a person’s identity, is one way to recognize the diversity of individuals who experience homelessness.
LGBTQ2S Adult Housing Needs Assessment
With this knowledge in hand, I’d like to share the results of a needs assessment that I conducted with Daybreak Non-Profit Housing, through the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The project, based in Ottawa, Ontario, examined the housing needs of LGBTQ2S adults who have experienced homelessness. There is a paucity of research on LGBTQ2S adults who experience homelessness, so this project filled a much needed gap.
What did we do?
We conducted interviews with 22 LGBTQ2S adults who had experienced at least one episode of homelessness, and focus groups and surveys with local service providers. The participants of the focus groups and surveys were staff members from agencies representing various types of service models (e.g., emergency shelters, drop-in services, congregate supportive housing agencies, scattered-site supported housing agencies, and community health centres).
What did we find?
Key findings from the interviews with LGBTQ2S adults include:
- Half of the participants had an experience of homelessness prior to the age of 21.
- More than half of participants discussed the impact of their LGBTQ2S identity on their entry into homelessness, particularly in regards to landlord discrimination, harassment from other tenants, and struggles with their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
- The participants generally felt supported by staff members of agencies across the homeless serving sector, but some participants did recount interactions with staff that were homophobic, biphobic, and/or transphobic. Further, not all participants felt comfortable disclosing their gender identity and/or sexual orientation with staff.
- Many of the participants did not feel safe disclosing their gender identity and/or sexual orientation with other clients. This discomfort arose from the potential of verbal and physical harassment from the other clients. Housing experiences followed a similar pattern, as some participants felt safe in their housing and other participants experienced verbal harassment from other tenants.
- The housing needs of clients were diverse. Over half of the participants stated that they would access housing specific to the LGBTQ2S community. There was no consensus on the type of housing that participants wanted, although a majority of the participants stated that they preferred to live independently.
- Some participants expressed that housing options specific to certain identities and orientations within the LGBTQ2S spectrum are warranted, including housing specific to transgender individuals.
- Neighbourhoods were important, as some participants expressed wanting to live in a LGBTQ2S-friendly neighbourhood and others wanting to live outside of the downtown core.
- Regardless of the type of housing that is potentially developed, participants thought it was important to include supports for those who needed it and to staff the housing with individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ2S community.
Where do we go from here?
Based upon the results, we developed a series of recommendations for service providers, service agencies, and municipalities to assist in the creation of an inclusive sector. These recommendations focused on:
1 - the development of housing options specific to the LGBTQ2S community;
2- the inclusion of LGBTQ2S-identified staff members in these housing options;
3 - improving staff training on the LGBTQ2S community across the sector; and
4 - entrenching the rights of transgender, gender non-conforming, and Two-Spirit individuals.
By recognizing the importance of an individual’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation, this study has demonstrated that the response to homelessness should be one that recognizes diversity, inclusivity, and above all, choice in housing.
The report can be found here: https://www.daybreakhousing.org/events-newsletters
The link to the report is here: http://homelesshub.ca/resource/lgbtq2s-adult-housing-needs-assessment
Dr. John Ecker is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the COH. In this role, he has been fortunate to collaborate with with a number of community partners on their research and evaluation activities. He attained his Ph.D. in Community Psychology from the University of Ottawa where he received advanced training in qualitative and quantitative analyses, as well as program evaluation theory and practice. His research interests are varied and include homelessness, housing, Housing First, community integration, and LGBTQ2S studies. In his spare time, John is an avid tennis player/fan and has a love of pop culture.
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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.