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Dire Gaps in Services for LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Research shows that Toronto needs to become more accessible, supportive, and safe for LGBTQ youth.

Toronto has long been known as something of a haven for the LGBTQ community. It’s become a destination for same-sex marriage ceremonies and celebrations, for Pride parties people talk about until the next one, and as a new home for many seeking a vibrant and welcoming place to live. But for homeless LGBTQ youth, it’s something of a different story.

“Due to Toronto’s LGBTQ-friendly reputation, LGBTQ youth frequently migrate to Toronto expecting to find support and safety, which unfortunately is not always the case,” says I. Alex Abramovich, a doctoral candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education whose research focuses on LGBTQ youth homelessness.

In Toronto—which, says Abramovich, is the homeless capital of Canada—the incidence of LGBTQ youth homelessness is on the rise, and agencies serving homeless youth have reported challenges in providing support to this population. Approximately 25 to 40 per cent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, compared to the approximately five to 10 per cent of the general population who identifies as such. Yet the City of Toronto does not operate a single shelter specifically for LGBTQ youth.

“We also know that many LGBTQ homeless youth feel safer on the streets than in shelters due to homophobic and transphobic violence in the shelter system,” says Abramovich. “Despite these findings, there are few specialized support services, and no specialized shelters or transitional housing for LGBTQ street involved youth in Canada.”

Abramovich recently completed a study that found a dire need for specialized services that create safe spaces for LGBTQ homeless youth, for stricter policies in the shelter system against homophobia and transphobia, and for more discussions about inclusion and acceptance among shelter providers and workers. The results of this study (which will make up Abramovich’s dissertation) will also appear in a free ebook published by the Homeless Hub this spring that will focus on applications for the research findings.

Safety is a real concern for homeless LGBTQ youth, who face significantly higher rates of criminal victimization and daily incidents of homophobia and transphobia. LGBTQ homeless youth are also at greater risk for substance use, risky sexual behaviour, and mental health difficulties, and these risk factors are amplified by the lack of available support.

Abramovich’s research also reveals that we don’t properly understand the consequences of this state of affairs. For example, we do not know enough about how the lack of specialized services impacts this population’s health, well-being, and length of time on the street; nor do we fully understand how experiencing intersecting or multiple oppressions—racism and homophobia, for instance—both on the streets and in the shelter system, impacts LGBTQ street involved youth. “Professionals working with homeless youth, as well as the general public, need a solid understanding of the impacts of homophobia and transphobia on LGBTQ people’s lives, and of the ways in which the LGBTQ community has been and still is marginalized and oppressed,” Abramovich says.

For all that we perceive our city as that safe haven, we actually do not have a thorough understanding of the connection between homophobia and homelessness, nor of the challenges of coming out and the struggles some face in forming gender and sexual identity.

While the City of Toronto does not have any shelters for LGBTQ youth, other cities have invested in these resources, something that Abramovich says we should learn from. Until then, our lack of specialized programs and a supportive atmosphere may have critical consequences.


  • rich1299

    We also need a law, or rather to enforce the laws that exist and charge parents who kick LGBT teens out of their homes for being LGBT with failure to provide the necessities of life. We also need to see those parents who abuse their children for being LGBT forcing their children to leave home for the relative safety of the streets charged with child abuse.

    Disgustingly I’ve heard too many parents of LGBT teens justify their abuse of their children, though they don’t consider it abuse, as their way of raising their children “right” according to their beliefs and how dare anyone tell them physical or mental abuse of their child is wrong and reason for the state to get involved to protect their child, often they blame the state for making their child “act” like they’re LGBT despite of course them really being so. For those wondering such parents can be found online at LifeSite News especially whenever a story concerning CAS, LGBT youth or any similar topic arises, challenge them and they’ll become so enraged the truth of the situation often slips out, that they’re abusing they’re LGBT children. Of course such people never acknowledge their child is LGBT, just that they’re going through a phase or been corrupted by liberal media/society/teachers/state and so on.

    If you have a homeless child of any gender or sexual orientation chances are very high you have failed as a parent, though of course sometimes troubled teens come from the best of families most do not and are homeless solely through the failure of their parents as parents.

    Why is it the right wing beat their law and punishment drum so hard except when it comes to child abuse and protecting LGBT teens from their parents?