At a memorial service yesterday, my older cousin and fellow blogger gave me crap about abandoning my blog. I had spoken to my parents about how I wanted to continue the blog but had no idea what more I could talk about… but low and behold as I was hanging out on my tumblr dash today a story of interest appeared. A trans* support group based out of Quebec have raised over 2000 dollars to produce and publish a guide for shelter support workers on how to improve the policies and practices of shelters in Montreal, and Quebec as a whole, to make shelter and support services safer and more accessible for trans* individuals. The shelter guide being produced by Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec also known as Québec Trans Health Action will provide tips and tools for support workers in order to improve the shelter situation for trans* individuals as well as include stories and testimonials from trans* individuals on their experiences of accessing shelters and support services.
As mentioned before in a previous post, some Montreal shelters have been known to be unfriendly and accepting of trans* individuals which can have dire consequences especially in the winter months. This guide is being produced in direct response to the discrimination and exclusion that many trans* people in Montreal experience when trying to gain access to shelters and homelessness support services. Many reports on issued faces by trans* individuals in the shelter system have narrowed in on the issue of policies and practices in shelters being transphobic or just plain ignorant towards the issues faced by and the needs of trans* individuals who are experiencing homelessness and who are seeking shelter and other services to address their homeless status. Documents such as this one can be foundations for producing policy in shelters that accommodates the needs of trans* individuals and addresses issues that make shelters unsafe or inhospitable for trans* individuals. Recommendations for changes that are made by trans* individuals and their allies address the needs of trans* people as they understand them which allows for shelters and support services to make changes that accommodate the experiences of trans* individuals.
For more on this see the story on transnews.org or visit ASTT(e)Q’s gofundme site to learn more about the project or to donate funds. You can also visit their website to learn more about the organization as a whole.
An interesting interview with Erin Armstrong, a staff member at TRANS: THRIVE a day drop in center for people experiencing homelessness which focuses on the needs of trans individuals. She expresses a need to focus on all the aspects of the lives of trans people experiencing homelessness and the different intersectional issues that trans people experience.
One of the major things that I wanted to do for this blog was to put together a list of resources for LGBT youth experiencing housing insecurity, this task has turned out to be much more difficult than I ever anticipated and the fact that this information isn’t readily available could be detrimental to LGBT youth who are experiencing homelessness. Despite the rate of LGBT youth who are homeless, there remains a severe lack of resources that are accepting and understanding of LGBT youth and what it means to be a sexual minority. The most striking part of my research has been the fact that I have had an extremely difficult time finding a list of local resources for LGBT homeless youth. As part of his research for his master’s thesis, I. Alex Abramovich asked participants which Toronto youth homelessness resources they considered to be welcoming and safe for LGBT individuals.
- Participants said that Toronto based SHOUT clinic was accepting of LGBT individuals and that they found it to be a welcoming environment that was understanding of LGBT needs.
- CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) has a “Rainbow Service” program which offers counseling and rehabilitation services specifically geared for LGBTQ individuals and is staffed by LGBTQ staff members and straight workers who are educated in the needs and issues of LGBT individuals.
- Toronto based SOY (Support Our Youth) is an organization that offers services specifically for LGBT youth.
- The LGBT youth line may also be a useful resource for LGBT youth experiencing crisis. They are a toll free hotline with staff that can provide youth with advice and resources to meet their specific issues. The hotline can be contacted at 1-800-268-9688
Being a trans individual can be extremely difficult in our society even without the added stress of homelessness and housing insecurity. There is a lot of misunderstandings and ignorance about trans people and what it means to be trans and this lack of understanding often leads to transphobia, which can make day to day lives of trans people difficult if they don’t have the proper support systems. The issues that are faced by trans individuals in our society are often only further exacerbated when these individuals are experiencing homelessness. While there is little research done on gay and lesbian homelessness, there is even less information out there about trans experiences of homelessness. Homelessness can be an extremely precarious situation for trans individuals as they already have an increased risk of experiencing physical and sexual violence in their everyday lives and these risks are increased for trans individuals who are living on the streets or in precarious housing situations.
First of all, many staff at homeless shelters are not trained to understand what it means to be a trans individual and how to address the needs of trans people, and this is a major source of discomfort for trans people who are experiencing homelessness. The Young Street Mission running out of Toronto explains that many of the services that exist to help homeless youth express difficulty in serving trans youth. The fact that many shelters segregate residents by birth sex can cause discomfort for trans individuals if the shelters in question are not placing trans youth with the sex that they identify with. Placing trans individuals with individuals of their birth sex as opposed to those that match their gender identity can often lead to increased rates of physical and sexual violence for trans individuals in the shelter system. Another issue that trans people face in the shelter system is being mislabeled in terms of the pronouns they are being addressed by. When staff are uneducated in the needs and experiences of trans people they may not know how to properly address trans youth which can be extremely damaging to their self esteem and mental health especially for those who experience extreme gender dysphoria.
Trans youth who are homeless also have different health needs that may not necessarily be met if they are living on the streets. Homeless trans youth may not have access to hormone treatments especially if they have lost access to health insurance or if they don’t have a health card. This can be especially difficult for individuals who have already begun transition treatments before becoming homeless because this may force them to stop treatments which can be bad for their physical health or they may have to find alternate ways of getting the treatments that they need. Trans individuals who cannot afford to access safe and reliable medical treatment are at a higher risk of taking dangerous or illegal measures to gain the treatments that they want or need.
The issues faced by trans individuals in the shelter system can be even worse for FTM trans individuals. FTM trans individuals experiencing homelessness have expressed that they were not welcome in either shelters specifically for women or in shelters for men which means that in many cases these individuals have nowhere to go but the streets or are forced to resort to couch surfing or performing sex acts in exchange for temporary shelter and none of these options are overly safe. It is extremely important for existing shelters to begin to implement policy that makes shelters safer for trans individuals especially for individuals who may be turned away from gender specific shelters which can happen frequently if shelters don’t understand the experiences of trans individuals.
A must see documentary on LGBT homelessness
In the course of my research I stumbled on this documentary which takes an in-depth look at the lives and experiences of LGBT people who are experiencing homelessness. This film explores the reasons for LGBT homelessness and the roles that society plays in putting LGBT youth at risk of experiencing housing insecurity.
While LGBT youth are at in increased risk of being homeless, simply for being LGBT identified individuals, we must consider what other issues these youth are put at risk of because of their LGBT homeless status. First of all, in general, LGBT youth are more susceptible for mental health issues because of rampant homophobia and transphobia within our society and the lack of resources out there to help young LGBT people deal with the stress of discrimination. The increased rate of mental health issues can lead to an increase in issues with homelessness and employment and then these issues are further exacerbated by a youth’s homeless status. According to the Young Street Mission, LGBT homeless youth reported that services offering mental health care were not considered to be accessible or responsive to their specific needs and youth also expressed fear of being further stigmatized if they sought out mental health services. Lack of income and adequate housing can also make it difficult for young people to get access to mental health resources, since many of these resources are not covered under public health care, which can help prevent homelessness in the first place and help aid young people who are struggling with mental health issues to get off the streets and back into school or into gainful employment.
Mental health issues are also one of the major causes of death for homeless LGBT youth and homeless LGBT youth have extremely high rates of suicide. According to a study done on Toronto street youth, queer street youth have an increased rate of thoughts of suicide and attempts at suicide compared to their heterosexual and cisgendered counterparts. 70.2% of LGBT homeless youth reported that they’d had thoughts of suicide compared to only 48.5% of heterosexual respondents. Even more alarming than this is the fact that while 25% of heterosexual and cisgendered respondents reported attempting suicide where the harm done required medical attention, a whopping 87.5% of queer respondents reported that they had attempted suicide at least once… that’s well over double the rate of their non-queer counterparts. Furthermore, the increased rate of mental health issues among LGBT homeless youth leads to an increase in substance abuse which in turn aids in the increase of LGBT youth participating in prostitution which leads to an increased rate of sexually transmitted diseases among LGBT homeless youth.
The fact that LGBT homeless youth are often afraid to use shelter systems in fear of discrimination from both staff and residents leads to a disproportionate number of queer street youth living on the streets or seeking shelter through couch surfing or having sex with in exchange for shelter. The fact that queer homeless youth consider the streets to be safer than shelters leads to an increased risk for both physical, mental and sexual harassment. On top of all this, the fact that queer homeless youth are prone to turning to prostitution and becoming involved in illicit drugs and activities means that they are at greater risk for being institutionalized which further hinders their chances of finding employment and safe housing and ultimately getting off the street.
For more on LGBT youth homelessness in Toronto see Christine Wong-Chong’s report “Young, Queer, and Homeless in Toronto” available for download here
This is an interesting infographic I’ve seen on several other blogs that sums up the issue of LGBT homelessness in the States quite well. (Click the image to see an even larger size
For more information please see the original posting of this infographic at http://socialworklicensemap.com/lgbt-youth-homelessness/