A concise look at LGBT youth homelessness, the situation as it is now, and what policy changes can be made to change the situation for LGBT youth in Canada.
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.
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.
This video was put together by I. Alex Abramovich as part of his masters thesis on LGBT homelessness in Toronto. The video includes important findings from Alex’s research and gives some background about what it is like to be a young queer person experiencing homelessness in Toronto. Not only does it include some important statistics about youth homelessness is also explores the discrimination that LGBT youth can experience in the shelter system and on the streets even in Toronto which is advertised as a global hub for LGBT people.
When we were asked to choose a research topic on an issue relating to gender and welfare in Canada, I was immediately drawn to the issue of LGBT homelessness, especially after leading a seminar on homelessness that included literature on LGBT youth homelessness. The more I read about the issue the more I wanted to understand what it means for LGBT youth to be homeless and how their status as LGBT individuals affects their experiences with homelessness and housing insecurity. One of the major things that has struck me over the course of my research is the fact that many of the people being discussed in the literature are LGBT youth who are around the same age as me and my friends and as a queer identified individual it really strikes me how lucky I am. In the states it is estimated that 320,000-400,000 LGBT youth are homeless, I am one of the lucky ones. As someone who comes from a very liberally minded family who accepted me from the very moment I came out, I can never even begin to imagine what it means trying to address homophobia within the shelter system as well as within your own family and community. The fact that I have had an extremely difficult time finding local resources available for LGBT youth experiencing homelessness only increases my drive to learn more about the topic and what we can do to make life better for queer homeless youth. I am eager to learn about the experiences of other queer youth and what we can do to improve the situation for homeless youth who are gay and trans.
There are tons of resources out there for homeless youth and youth experiencing housing insecurity but there are very few resources that are designed to address the specific needs and experiences of LGBT youth and many of these resources are unprepared to address these issues or staff are untrained in issues faced by LGBT youth in general as well as youth who are experiencing homelessness. Considering that the rate of LGBT homelessness is so high (25-40% of all homeless youth) there is a lot that needs to be done in terms of creating resources and adapting existing resources to address the needs of LGBT youth.
In the process of my research one thing that has been popping up in a number of articles I’ve read is recommendations for improving services to make them more open and safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* youth. First of all, the recommendation which seems the most crucial is that the staff who work at existing shelters and resource centers for homeless youth need to be educated in discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia experiences by their LGBT clients and how to address these issues within the shelter system. On top of this, service providers need to be trained in the specific issues faced by and the specific needs of LGBT. Second of all there needs to be an increase in number of resources designed specifically for LGBT youth who are experiencing homelessness in order to address the high rates of LGBT people and youth who are living on the streets or in unstable housing situations.
While people who identify as gay, lesbian and bisexual experience specific barriers and discrimination while attempting to access resources to address their homelessness, people who identify as trans* often experience much more drastic barriers which make staying in shelters difficult, if not impossible for many trans* individuals. In order to make a shelter system and a resource system that is accepting and safe for trans individuals we need to ensure that staff and social workers are educated in what it means to be a trans person and how to speak to and about trans indentified individuals. We need to ensure that staff are educated in gender identity and the correct ways to address transgendered individuals (such as use of chosen pronouns) and how to address their needs within the shelter system. Training staff on how to deal with trans clients will help avoid putting trans individuals in situations that can be very dangerous for them such as forcing trans individuals to stay in shelters with people of their birth sex as opposed to people of the gender that they associate with.
It seems that the major changes that need to be made to the shelter system to ensure safety and inclusion of LGBT individuals are such simple changes to be made. Something as simple as sensitivity and diversity training of staff can make a world of difference for LGBT youth who are experiencing homelessness. Although this training could make shelters and resource centers safer places for LGBT individuals it seems that what we truly need it more resources implemented that are designed specifically to address the needs of LGBT individuals with staff who are trained in and understand how to address these needs and who understand the experiences of LGBT youth especially youth who are experiencing homelessness.