Life

“Everyone deserves a safe bed”

Monday, January 18, 2016

We are on the same boat about the idea that everyone deserves a safe bed. Well, what about LGBT people in this regard? We have talked about homelessness with Alex Abramovich from Canada.

Even though the LGBT discrimination gets reflected on society as low income and homelessness, recent studies in the United States of America have created reactions.

When I had participated in the conference of “Social Exclusion of LGBTI and Homelessness” by IGLYO in Budapest, I met Alex Abramovich who was doing research in Canada. The conference which started by a motto of “Everyone deserves a safe bed” was really impressive and revealed the increasing rates and risks.

Throughout the event, I have witnessed various examples of theory and policy and I have realized that the “social state” is actually making these risks, troubles invisible. After the event, I have discussed the studies and homelessness among LGBTs with Alex.

Discrimination faced by LGBT self-reflection and made the low economic level of homelessness Although recent studies have aroused great repercussions in the United States. Would you mention us the situation of homelessness among LGBT community in general? According to your  presentation, there are between sixty five thousand and one hundred thousand homeless people in Canada and %25-40 of them identify themselves as LGBT individuals. How come you reach this conclusion?

While research on LGBTQ youth homelessness has expanded in recent years, there is still minimal investigation into these issues internationally, and large-scale data collection remains limited.  Due to these reasons, we tend to rely on older data with regards to this issue.

The statistic that we tend to use in Canadian research is 25-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. It is important to be mindful that this statistic came from 1 Canadian study 16 years ago, and there is not much clarity or understanding what this number looks like today or how we even begin to scale the problem of LGBTQ youth homelessness on a national or provincial level when services often do not collect data on people’s gender or sexual identities.

In 2013, the City of Toronto Street Needs Assessment included a question for the very first time, about LGBTQ identity. Their results confirmed that 21% of youth in the shelter system identify as LGBTQ. Although 21% is high, we have reasons to believe that the prevalence of LGBTQ youth homelessness in Toronto is in fact even higher.

For example, many youth choose to not come out as LGBTQ to volunteers conducting the survey, for a variety of reasons that often stem from issues regarding safety; and countless LGBTQ youth did not have a chance to complete the survey because they are part of Toronto’s hidden homeless population and do not access services, due to issues regarding homophobia and transphobia in the shelter system and drop-in programs.

We know that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population, but underrepresented in homeless shelters, and that trans people, especially trans women of colour, are often the most underrepresented group of people in the shelter system and the most discriminated against group of people because not only are they dealing with transphobia, but also racism, and oftentimes, homophobia as well.

Homelessness is not a common thing in social states and traditional societies. If homelessness doesn’t turn to a crisis, it is not seen as a problem. The rate of homelessness among LGBT increases because of coming up stories and issues like economic collapse. What kind of cases you/we encounter about it?

It is difficult to know whether or not LGBTQ youth homelessness is an issue in a particular city, province, or country, unless we actually investigate the problem and collect data. As researchers, we can do this in many different ways -- we can speak to youth experiencing homelessness or with lived experience, service providers, and frontline workers. It is absolutely necessary to listen to the voices of young people and to encourage LGBTQ youth to share their stories, which may be difficult in certain countries and/or cultures where it may not be safe to be out as LGBTQ. Community engagement is also integral to this work and spending time with LGBTQ youth communities and building trust.

Another challenge in measuring the issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness is that queer and trans youth may not always access services or shelters because they are part of the hidden homeless population. They may not access services due to issues regarding safety, stigma, and discrimination.

What kind of shelters Canada have? Could you please mention the condition of shelters in there?

In Canada, we typically spend a lot of money on the emergency response to homelessness, which includes emergency shelters and drop-in programs. Toronto is known as a very diverse and multicultural city, and it also has a reputation for being LGBTQ positive, which is why queer and trans people, especially youth, often migrate to Toronto. In Toronto there are currently 9 youth emergency shelters with 350 beds and 4 transitional housing programs with 110 beds.

Through my research, I have found that LGBTQ youth frequently report feeling unsafe in the shelter system, due to homophobia and transphobia, and therefore, often avoid shelters and describe the streets as safer in certain situations.

Although we have this knowledge, still there is minimal support available and there are NO specialized shelters for LGBTQ youth in many countries, including Canada. In March 2015, Toronto City Council approved funding for two transitional housing programs for LGBTQ youth in Toronto; however, we are still waiting for the programs to launch.

While the emergency response is necessary and important, especially for LGTBQ youth who have been kicked out or forced to leave home and are in crisis, we also need strategies that will also focus on longer-term solutions and on helping young people find and keep housing.

Shelters which are built on the binary gender system can be a problem for LGBTI people. What would you suggest? Also, would you please mention studies of State in this regard?

Shelters are often segregated by male and female floors, which have male and female bathrooms and showers, which isn’t a problem if you allow a young person to self-identify and tell you which floor they feel safest. However, it is a problem when the floor that a person is placed on has more to do with the staff’s perception of a person’s sex and less to do with how an individual actually identifies. It is also a problem when their aren’t any other options because not all individuals’ gender identity is congruent with the sex assigned to them at birth and not all individuals identify as male or female.

Transgender and gender non-conforming youth are often rejected by shelters based on their gender identity and are regularly not permitted to access the shelter that matches the gender with which they identify because shelters often do not feel equipped to support trans youth.

Some of the ways that we can shift the culture of services include changing or implementing rules and policies that protect LGBTQ people and promote safe environments; updating all forms that need to be filled out, so that people are not forced to only identify as male or female; ensuring that there are gender neutral washrooms in services, this can be as easy as simply changing the sign on a single stall washroom to “All Genders”; and of course making sure that staff receive ongoing LGBTQ cultural competency training and trans awareness training.

We, as Kaos GL Association, specify the housing right as one of our subfield. Could you please inform us about the other associations which also work on this subject? What kind of exercises has been done by associations in Canada about homelessness among LGBT? In conclusion, could you please mention about the policies and civil society studies which need to be developed?

There needs to be more of a commitment from all levels of government, and from all systems working with youth. There also needs to be more emphasis on longer-term solutions and prevention. Shelters and youth serving organizations need to engage the young people who are affected most by these issues, in the development of programs, transparency, accountability, and community partnerships are key as well.

Shelters and support services need to be equipped with appropriate resources, learning tools, and posters on the walls, such as information about coming out as LGBTQ, and information about sexual and gender identity, so that queer and trans youth see themselves reflected in all aspects of programs, from the intake forms, to the messages on the walls, to the fliers in the lobby.

I was involved in a project with the Government of Alberta, which included the development of a strategy to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth across the province and to ensure that LGBTQ youth are served more appropriately; this is an excellent example of how government can invest in long-term strategies - http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/province-creates-working-group-to-tackle-lgbtq-youth-homelessness

Some examples of specialized housing programs and shelters for LGBTQ youth in Canada and US include:

Vancouver, Canada: http://www.raincityhousing.org/what-we-do/lgbtq2s-youth-housing/

Calgary, Canada: http://www.boysandgirlsclubsofcalgary.ca/programs/youth-housing-shelter/youth-housing/aura-host-homes

NYC, USA: http://www.aliforneycenter.org

Michigan, USA: http://www.ruthelliscenter.org

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