How can we prevent, reduce, and end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness?

Research Snapshot

What you need to know

sad looking young manLGBTQ2S youth face a lack of acceptance and safety when accessing housing and shelter services. A strategy supported by the Government of Alberta, offers a model for jurisdictions across Canada on how to prevent, reduce, and end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness.

In our latest Research Snapshot, EENet's Rebecca Phillips Konigs looks at the article, “Preventing, Reducing and Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness: The Need for Targeted Strategies,” published in the journal Social InclusionResearch Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What is this research about?

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and 2-Spirit (LGBTQ2S) youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population in Ontario. They face discrimination when accessing supports and feel unsafe in the shelter system. Shelter intake forms often don’t ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, and staff are not trained to meet the diverse needs of these youth. Building staff capacity, changing government policies, and developing targeted strategies to prevent homelessness are some ways to meet the needs of these youth.

What did the researchers do?

This paper uses data from a study of homeless LGBTQ2S youth, shelter workers, and program managers in Toronto to demonstrate how LGBTQ2S youth are often marginalized and oppressed when they seek housing supports. It also outlines a systematic response to LGBTQ2S youth homelessness by the Government of Alberta as a model for other provinces.

What did the researchers find?

The author outlines how LGBTQ2S youth are routinely erased and made invisible in shelters and housing programs. For example, intake forms and questionnaires that only provide the options “male” and “female”, exclude anyone who does not identify with these categories, such as transgender or non-binary youth. This leads to problems in accurately measuring how many LGBTQ2S youth are experiencing homelessness and accessing services.

Shelters that are divided by “male” and “female” dorms, showers, and bathrooms, can also be difficult for LGBTQ2S youth to navigate. While awareness of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness is growing, most jurisdictions lack specialized housing programs and strategies.

One exception is the Government of Alberta’s Supporting Healthy and Successful Transitions to Adulthood: A Plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness. This plan highlights the need to prioritize certain populations of youth who are more likely to experience homelessness. It also contains Canada’s first and only provincial strategy to address LGBTQ2S youth homelessness.

young person walkingThis evidence-based strategy considers both urban and rural contexts, and emphasizes prevention and easy transitions between services. The Government of Alberta approved all six recommendations in the strategy, which recommend creating:

  • LGBTQ2S specific housing options (including transitional and supportive housing programs);
  • A range of programs (including employment, recreation, and mentorship) for specific populations (including newcomer/immigrant LGBTQ2S youth and 2-Spirit Indigenous youth);
  • Housing and shelter standards that meet the needs of LGBTQ2S youth (including intake processes, washroom policies, and training guidelines);
  • Provincial training for staff to increase LGBTQ2S cultural competency;
  • A prevention plan that focuses on early intervention, awareness raising, and programs for children and families; and
  • Research on new approaches and solutions to LGBTQ2S homelessness.

How can you use this research?

Policymakers can use this case study as a national standard for how to address LGBTQ2S youth homelessness across Canada. Service providers can also use these recommendations to create safer and more supportive spaces for LGBTQ2S youth.

Limitations and next steps

Standardized training, inclusive policies (e.g., intake forms, washrooms), and specific LGBTQ2S housing programs are an important next step in creating safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ2S youth. Service providers should collaborate with youth to ensure their voices are at the centre of these programs.  More research on the primary causes and risk factors for LGTBQ2S youth homelessness is needed, to help create more effective prevention strategies.

About the researcher

Dr. Alex Abramovich is an Independent Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Assistant Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

Keywords

Homelessness, homophobia, LGBTQ2S youth, policy change, social inclusion, transphobia

This Research Snapshot is based on the article, “Preventing, Reducing and Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness: The Need for Targeted Strategies,” published in the journal Social Inclusion, volume 4, number 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.17645/si.v4i4.669

This Research Snapshot responds to the need for evidence related to “how best to support vulnerable and at-risk youth” and “transitional housing models and services for different populations”. These needs were identified during dialogues for EENet’s Sharing Together initiative and falls under Evidence Priority 2 (“Children and Youth, including Transition-Age Youth”) and 3 (“Continuum of Housing and Homelessness”). To learn more about Sharing Together, which resulted in an evidence priority agenda for Ontario’s mental health, substance use, and addictions system, visit eenet.ca/initiatives/Sharing.

This summary was written by Rebecca Phillips Konigs.

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