For our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!
As a wealthy Western nation, Canada enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world. Yet, there are truths about our country that are unfathomable: we have an unaddressed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and two-spirit (LGBTQ2S) youth homelessness crisis; widespread homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia are an everyday reality; and, because of this, queer and trans youth who experience homelessness often report feeling safer on the streets than in shelters.
This needs to change. It is not enough to encourage young people to be themselves and promise them “it gets better.” We have an ethical and moral obligation to make it better now. We cannot afford to wait.
Canada needs a national strategy that addresses the issue of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and meets the needs of this population. Consider the following quote, which illustrates an all too common narrative: “I have no place I feel safe. There’s nowhere to go, and I thought there would be because this is Toronto. If the rest of Ontario has nowhere for me to go I thought Toronto would at least have somewhere.”
LGBTQ2S youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population, making up as much as 40 percent of homeless youth. Identity-based family conflict, resulting from coming out as LGBTQ2S, is a major contributing factor to youth homelessness. Once in the shelter system—meant to support all young people— LGBTQ2S youth often report minimal support and high rates of homophobic and transphobic violence.
It has taken many years of advocacy, activism, and research for this issue to gain attention and support from decision makers, the public, and the media. A major milestone was the opening of YMCA’s Sprott House in February 2016—Canada’s first LGBTQ2S transitional housing program, an important step in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go.
We need a committed, national strategy to end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness. This will allow us to respond to the unique needs of LGBTQ2S youth in rural and urban communities from province to province, and will place specialized housing with integrated supports at the forefront, as well as comprehensive mandatory LGBTQ2S cultural competency training for staff at drop-in and housing programs.
This strategy must include emphasis on longer-term solutions and prevention. It must do so through engaging shelters, youth-serving organizations, and most importantly youth themselves. Let’s ensure access to safe beds, as well as safe and affirming spaces and environments where youth can bring their full authentic selves. A national strategy to end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness is a promise that we will no longer tolerate homophobia, transphobia, or biphobia. It’s a message to the world that everyone deserves a safe place to sleep and no young person should end up on the streets because of whom they love or how they identify.
Dr. Alex Abramovich has addressed the issue of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness for the past decade and is a nationally recognized leader in the field of study. Abramovich is an independent scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).