Solutions: LGBTQ2 Youth Homelessness

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
June 23, 2014
Categories: Solutions

In recent years, there has been extensive research in the area of youth homelessness both in Canada and internationally. We have seen a great deal of initiatives towards the movement to end youth homelessness. However, there is a lack of knowledge into the problem of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, and 2-spirited (LGBTQ2) youth homeless in Canada.

A photograph of a youthWhat we do know is that LGBTQ2 youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population. It has been estimated that approximately 25-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ2. However, this statistic came from one Canadian study, 14 years ago, and there is not much clarity or understanding what this number looks like today or how to begin scaling the problem of LGBTQ2 youth homelessness on a national level, when services do not collect data on youths’ gender or sexual identities.

The latest round of the City of Toronto Street Needs Assessment included a question about people’s LGBTQ2 identity for the first time. The results confirmed that 20% of youth in the shelter system identify as LGBTQ2, which is more than twice the rate for all age groups. Although 20% is high, we have reasons to believe that the prevalence of LGBTQ2 youth homelessness in Toronto is in fact higher. For example, many youth choose to not come out as queer or trans to volunteers conducting the survey, for a variety of reasons that often stem from issues regarding safety; and countless LGBTQ2 youth did not have a chance to complete the survey because they are part of Toronto’s hidden homeless population and do not access support services, also due to issues regarding homophobia and transphobia in the shelter system and drop-in programs.

We also know that LGBTQ2 youth are at a higher risk of homelessness due to homophobia and transphobia in the home and they often face the same discrimination in the shelter system. Queer and trans youth frequently migrate to Toronto because of the City’s LGBTQ2 friendly reputation and because service providers located outside of the city are often reluctant to admit LGBTQ2 youth into shelters and end up sending them to Toronto with the false promise that there will be support available. However, a high proportion of queer and trans homeless youth feel safer on the streets than in shelters due to homophobic and transphobic violence that occurs in the shelter system and because shelter providers are not fully prepared to deal with homophobia and transphobia.

Although we have this knowledge, still there is minimal support available and there are NO specialized housing initiatives that meet the needs of LGBTQ2 youth in Canada.

Even with the legalization of same-sex marriage and various global initiatives that promote LGBTQ equality, homophobia and transphobia are still deeply ingrained in our everyday behaviours, language, and in the policies of many institutions, such as, the shelter system; however, they are often normalized and invisible in such settings. Due to gaps in knowledge and a lack of reported incidents, discrimination against queer and trans youth remains largely invisible to shelter workers and management, policy makers, and City of Toronto management, at a time when LGBTQ youth homelessness is on the rise

The risks encountered on the streets and in the shelter system by LGBTQ2 homeless youth versus heterosexual and cisgender homeless youth differ largely due to frequent incidents of homophobic and transphobic violence. Not only are the risks and barriers encountered different, but also the needs of LGBTQ2 youth differ from those of their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. For example, the challenges of dealing with coming out, trying to form one’s gender and sexual identity, and the burden of social stigma and discrimination, in addition to the everyday stresses of street life, greatly impact the well-being of LGBTQ2 homeless youth, which may be a contributing factor to the dramatically higher risk for suicide and mental health difficulties experienced by LGBTQ2 youth.

NOTE: Although there is minimal Canadian research that focuses on LGBTQ2 homelessness, the majority of research that has been conducted in this area focuses on youth. This is true for a number of reasons including the large percentage of “out” youth compared to the adult population, the distinct needs youth face compared to adults and the fact that family rejection is a major contributing factor to LGBTQ2 youth homelessless. However, given that youth homelessness often leads to adult homelessness there is also a need to address similar issues in single adult, couples and family shelters.

Dr. Alex Abramovich has worked in the area of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness for almost 10 years. Alex is a nationally recognized leader in the area of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and is one of few Canadian researchers studying the phenomenon of queer and trans youth homelessness.

Alex completed his Doctorate at the University of Toronto. Alex’s Ph.D. study investigated homophobia and transphobia in Toronto’s shelter system, the experiences that LGBTQ2S young people have in the shelter system, and how broader policy issues serve to create oppressive contexts for LGBTQ2S youth. This study made it possible for the voices of LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness to be heard in the context of a critical public health and social justice problem. This study was part of a large program of work that Alex has created in order to address and hopefully end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness in Canada. 

Alex’s research has been highlighted extensively by the media, including, The Current, CBC, The Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Most importantly, this work is having an impact on policy and Alex has been working with municipal and provincial government in Ontario and Alberta to help address the needs of LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness.

Alex’s research is grounded in the elements of Critical Action Research, Critical Ethnography, and Institutional Ethnography. He is committed to research that successfully and ethically engages the community and situates LGBTQ2S people experiencing homelessness as knowledge makers and creators.

For more information on Alex's work, please visit: www.ilona6.com

Comments

Fraser Doke
9:55 AM 26/06/2014

Good Day, I lived on the streets in Toronto in the 70s and worked the streets cause homosexuality was thought as a illness, I told a counsellor at school and they told my mom and she was brought up in the 30s and 40s that homosexuality was a illness, I went through electro shock treatment for six months and ran away from home, lived first in High Park then on the streets in downtown.. started drugs .. worked as a hooker and then came to vancouver and finally got off the streets through a program that helped street people ,, it was called the Senater Project.. I got off the streets after almost 10 years.. but developed hiv+ and thought I would die.. I am still alive and my mom asked me to forgive her, because she was taught that homosexuality was a illness, I forgave her and when she said sorry and when she died in 2001 she lived with me, and I held her hand with my brothers.. The basic comment I am trying to get across is that families some take religious, ethnical beliefs, or the way they are taught about LGBTT members, when they are young and trying to accept who they are... hope you all understand .. My name is Fraser Doke 52yrs old (hiv+) 28yrs, liver transplant survivor last year.. and still kicking ..
Cheers

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