There is great diversity within the homeless population. Some sub-populations are over-represented in Canada including Aboriginal persons, visible minorities, and amongst youth, LGBTQ persons. Why does this matter? Although homelessness is stigmatizing for all people who experience it, many individuals are doubly and triply marginalized due to racism, sexism and homophobia. In fact, discrimination is an identifiable cause of homelessness, for if people experience active discrimination that impacts on their ability to obtain adequate housing, work or an education, this can contribute to their experience of poverty and vulnerability to homelessness. Unfortunately many people continue to experience its negative impact once on the streets, from strangers, other homeless persons and unfortunately, from many service providers.
If homelessness services are the last refuge for such individuals and families – that is, they have no where else to go – then it is incumbent upon the sector to ensure that service providers to not further contribute to discrimination and marginalization. No organization should accept policies or practices that are homophobic or racist, for instance. As an example, transgendered youth should be able to expect the full rights, respect and the protection that they are most certainly entitled to. Young women – many of whom have experienced sexual exploitation and assault – should not be forced into services that include mixed gender clientele, as this may impact on their safety and well-being. Homelessness services – including emergency services should then not only institute anti-discrimination policies, but should ensure that they are practiced, which means providing training and support for staff and ensuring compliance measures are in place. The first rule of emergency supports should be to do no harm. Homelessness as a social and economic problem is in many ways about marginalization; the crisis response should not further entrench this.
FROM: Gaetz, S. (2014). Coming of Age - Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada. Homeless Hub Research Report Series.