Monday, December 22, 2014

Not just during the holidays, but all year round.

I like to take some time at the end of each year to reflect on the year gone by, which is why I usually write an end of year blog post.

At the end of 2013, we were left with the hope that 2014 would bring new and improved strategies and solutions to how Toronto deals with: homophobic and transphobic violence in shelters, the overrepresentation of LGBTQ2 youth in the homeless youth population, and the barriers to accessing shelters and support services experienced by LGBTQ2 youth.
We ended the year with this wonderful article written by Andrea Houston.

2014 was a big year - it was the year that LGBTQ2 youth homelessness finally became part of important dialogue concerning youth homelessness in Canada. There were many significant moments, meetings, conferences, and events that took place over the course of the year, so I’ve decided to feature some of the highlights in this post.

The City of Toronto not only acknowledged that LGBTQ2 youth homelessness is a major problem, but also supported the formation of two working groups devoted to: 1. Updating the Toronto shelter standards through a LGBTQ2 lens. 2. Assisting the City in addressing the needs of LGBTQ2 youth experiencing homelessness. The City of Toronto also reported back positively, regarding the feasibility of creating specialized housing for LGBTQ2 youth; which makes me feel quite optimistic about what 2015 will bring.

In March, I completed my PhD - "Young, Queer and Trans, Homeless, and Besieged: A Critical Action Research Study of How Policy and Culture Create Oppressive Conditions for LGBTQ Youth in Toronto's Shelter System".

My Doctoral research was truly a significant research journey for me and is part of a large body of work that I call my “life work”. The stories that the young people who participated in the study shared with me were beautiful, tragic, sad, enriching, and heartbreaking all at once. I continue to hold these painful and tragic stories close to my heart and transform them into energy that will help me advocate for a safe, accessible, supportive, and affirming shelter system for all LGBTQ2 young people across the country.

This study has demonstrated the dire need for the creation of specialized services and safe spaces for LGBTQ2 youth experiencing homelessness, for stricter policies against homophobia and transphobia in the shelter system, and for more discussions of inclusion and acceptance among shelter providers and workers.
Interest in the issue of queer and trans youth homelessness increased significantly in 2014. Shelters across Toronto reached out for assistance in updating old policies and developing new ones, staff training, and raising awareness about queer and trans youth homelessness. The media also paid close attention, which of course helped bring this issue to the forefront of many important discussions:
NOW Magazine

Metro Morning, CBC

In June, Toronto hosted World Pride and for the World Pride Human Rights Conference, we brought together an international panel (Dwayne’s House, Jamaica; True Colors Fund, New York City; Ruth Ellis Center, Michigan) on LGBTQ2 youth homelessness for a discussion of global responses to LGBTQ2 youth homelessness.

This received more great coverage by NOW Magazine.

Days before the official launch of World Pride, Teal and I deputed at the CDR Committee meeting at City Hall, asking for mandatory LGBTQ2 cultural competency training for all shelter staff and for policies that would help make the shelter system safe, accessible, and supportive of LGBTQ2 youth. This momentous meeting marked an important day for the City of Toronto, a moment that I had waited a long time for.

It was great to see the Toronto Star cover this significant step forward.

I was also extremely grateful to have been selected as an "Honoured Trans Individual" to lead the World Pride Trans March. After many years of advocacy and trying to raise awareness to the issue of LGBTQ2 youth homelessness, it gave me much happiness to see that Pride Toronto recognized that the work to end queer and trans youth homelessness deserved to be highlighted. It was also brilliant to see so many people come together to hold up signs at the Trans March and help bring the issue of LGBTQ2 youth homelessness to Pride.

More recently, I was invited to give a keynote presentation at the Wood’s Homes 2nd provincial Youth Homelessness Symposium: “The Unspoken: Thoughts and Reality – LGBTQ2 Youth Homelessness” in Calgary, Alberta. The symposium was well attended, with close to 100 people from youth services across the province of Alberta. The symposium was meant to share knowledge and expertise in addressing the multiple complex layers of youth homelessness.

The youth homelessness symposium received some great media coverage: Global Calgary
CBC Calgary
CBC Homestretch

The Government of Alberta has recognized that ending youth homelessness will require targeted responses for specific subpopulations, which will include critical attention on meeting the needs of LGBTQ2 youth. I am currently working with Alberta Human Services and stakeholders across Alberta on the development of strategies that can be implemented into all youth serving organizations and shelters across the province of Alberta. It is my hope that other provinces across the country will follow Alberta’s lead and begin prioritizing this population of young people.

Over the past year, we have seen a huge shift regarding this issue and people’s willingness to discuss and address these problems.
People are finally having discussions.
People are starting to pay attention and understand that this is an emergency situation across Canada.
Organizations are coming forward and creating specialized initiatives and programs for queer and trans youth experiencing homelessness.
However, LGBTQ2 youth are still overrepresented in the homeless youth population, and still there is minimal support available, and many support services across the country are unsafe for queer and trans youth due to homophobic and transphobic violence.

It is always amazing to see so many individuals and organizations come together around the holidays to volunteer and help people experiencing homelessness.
It is truly a wonderful thing.

I hope that the desire to help does not end on January 1, because everybody deserves a safe place to sleep at night, not just during the holidays, but all year round.

Everybody deserves a safe place to sleep at night.

As we begin another year and move forward with this important work, it is my hope that we will change the way that we approach this issue.
It is my hope that we will fight even harder to end LGBTQ2 youth homelessness across Canada.