Research Matters Blog
Pride is a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and two-spirit (LGBTQ2S) communities around the globe celebrate who we are, how far we have come, and how hard we have fought in order to be able to be our authentic selves. During Pride we also reflect on the oppression and violence that our community has faced over the years and continues to face today, especially the most marginalized members of our communities; including youth, trans women of colour and racialized and indigenous LGBTQ2S people. It is absolutely essential that we make space for and amplify the voices of those who struggle the most in our communities, due to intersecting oppressions.
There is something extra meaningful and political about this year's Pride celebrations, as LGBTQ2S people around the world unite to mourn the lives that were lost and damaged by the recent horrific tragedy in Orlando. A gruesome act of violence that has shaken us to the core and reminded the world why Pride started in the first place and why we still celebrate Pride in 2016.
We understand that these events affect us all in different ways, but we need to ensure that the voices of queer and trans people of colour are amplified and centered in the conversations that we are all having about what has occurred.
Violence against queer and trans people is something that happens every day and everywhere around the globe, and it is something that threatens our freedom any time, and every time it occurs. Now more than ever, we must fight for LGBTQ2S rights globally. We must continue to show the world that we will not be defeated because we are not just a community, but a diverse family of many communities, and we will always come together in solidarity to fight hate.
Although many would describe Canada as a relatively safe country for LGBTQ2S communities, there is still much work to be done. Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia remain rampant in most institutional settings, including schools, health-care facilities, and shelters and housing programs. LGBTQ2S youth remain largely overrepresented in the homeless youth population, with estimates as high as up to 40 per cent of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ2S.
Here is how one young trans person interviewed by Abramovich (2015) described what it is like to be trans and homeless in Toronto:
"Try living in a world where it's hard enough to love yourself, but even harder to be accepted, going into a place where you think you can be safe, going into a place where you assume you can get help but every door you try to open is locked or sealed shut, you're trying to walk back to where you started but that door is also locked.
You try very hard to break down that door.
Once you get through you realize you cannot be you."
Until we end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and ensure safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments in all support programs, the fight will be far from over.
Even though we still have a long way to go, we must acknowledge how far we have come. It has been an eventful year with important milestones for LGBTQ2S communities across Canada. Great strides have finally been made in the area of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness - something we have fought hard for over the past decade.
Canada's first transitional housing program specifically designed to address the unique needs of LGBTQ2S youth opened in Toronto in February 2016 - YMCA, Sprott House. Sprott House offers a 25-bed safe home to a diverse group of LGBTQ2S young people, an essential and long awaited service.
Shelters and housing programs are often unsafe for LGBTQ2S youth, due to homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic violence, which is why specialized housing with integrated supports should be a key component of our national response to addressing and ending LGBTQ2S youth homelessness across Canada.
The City of Toronto, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration officially launched updated shelter standards for the first time in 12 years, as a result of years of advocacy efforts. LGBTQ2S cultural competency training was made mandatory for shelter staff for the first time. The 519 and Dr. Alex Abramovich worked in partnership to develop the curriculum, with the goal to help staff and organizations become better allies of LGBTQ2S youth. However, in order to do this, we also need to create welcoming and affirming spaces (social, physical and cultural) for LGBTQ2S youth.
In March 2016, the Government of Alberta's LGBTQ2S youth homelessness report was released, which outlines a provincial response to LGBTQ2S youth homelessness. The report details six core recommendations on how to prevent and reduce LGBTQ2S youth homelessness:
- Support the delivery of LGBTQ2S-specific housing options.
- Support the delivery of population-based programs for LGBTQ2S youth that foster an intersectional approach.
- Create provincial housing/shelter standards that focus on working with and meeting the needs of LGBTQ2S youth.
- Develop integrated, provincial training solutions for expanded staff training for all aspects of LGBTQ2S cultural competency.
- Develop a prevention plan that focuses on early intervention, awareness raising and education for parents and children in the school system.
- Develop the capacity for research that frames new approaches and solutions to LGBTQ2S youth homelessness.
These are critical recommendations that can help guide a national response to LGBTQ2S youth homelessness. We desperately need a national strategy to end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and to ensure that all of our youth have access to safe beds and safe spaces where they can bring their full authentic selves and celebrate who they are.
This Pride our communities will unite to celebrate our diverse identities, and remember all that we have achieved and still have to fight for. Thousands will join The 519 during The Green Space Festival to party for a cause and to raise funds that enable The 519 to deliver essential programs and services. This support helps sustain The 519's efforts to advocate for LGBTQ2S youth and to build vibrant and equitable communities for all.
This post was republished with permission from the Huffington Post.
Today—as all eyes turn toward the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Housing Ministers’ meeting and the Super Intent City court decision in Victoria, BC—a network of lived experience leaders from across the country is calling for the leadership and inclusion of poor and homeless people in all efforts to end homelessness in Canada.
Determined to claim space for voices of lived experience in the upcoming National Housing Strategy (NHS) consultations, the Lived Experience Advisory Council is today launching Nothing About Us Without Us: Seven principles for leadership and inclusion of people with lived experience of homelessness.
We believe it is critical that the NHS consultations include meaningful input and direction from diverse people facing homelessness, because the usual decision makers are not living our realities. Researchers, politicians, and service providers may be coming from good intentions, but most lack first-hand knowledge of what it is like to have insecure housing. In order to be effective, the NHS must be inclusive to and led by those directly affected by poverty and homelessness, including Indigenous people, women, families, single men, survivors of violence, people with disabilities, people who have been criminalized, and illicit drug users.
Super Intent City (SIC)—the autonomous homeless community that has been thriving in Victoria since last spring—is an amazing example of leadership by people facing homelessness. The success of SIC demonstrates that, like anyone else, homeless people need and want community, choices, and the freedom to access supports that respect their rights and dignity. The input of lived experts will strengthen Canada’s long-awaited National Housing Strategy with effective, outside-the-box solutions, such as micro-housing villages, for people who can’t afford the housing market to set up their own self-governing, healthy communities.
LEAC members know from experience that inclusion and leadership of people facing homelessness can contribute to world-changing solutions. We are each involved in initiatives in our own communities that have created meaningful, lasting change through the engagement of people directly affected by homelessness, poverty, and violence. These include Ottawa’s Alliance to End Homelessness; Waterloo’s STEP Home Participant Advisory Group; Winnipeg’s Lived Experience Circle; the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry; Vancouver’s Carnegie Community Action Project and the Committee to End Homelessness in Victoria. We have pushed for change through social media campaigns, music, blogging, court challenges, United Nations reports, and national advocacy organizations.
We first brought our web of networks together in 2014, at the National Conference to End Homelessness in Vancouver, B.C. The Conference included a myriad of lived experience folks, all there to advocate for grassroots voices to be heard at a national setting. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) had awarded 20 scholarships to Lived Experience advocates, panelists, and workshop facilitators from across the country, and 20 more to local lived experts, to be included at every level of input during the conference.
This was not my first time being invited to attend a conference or meeting as an expert of lived experience. Often throughout my life as a single Inuk parent, I have been invited to speak at events and share my story to policy makers and folks who generally don't get to hear much about what happens at ground level with the programs they design to help the impoverished and marginalized populations of this country. I've always taken this responsibility very seriously and I was delighted to know that this CAEH National Conference valued lived experience input enough to make space and accommodations for more than just a handful. We were represented at this conference by many well deserving and successful members of lived experience from across the country, all willing to tell their personal story to help with the processes of inclusivity at policy making levels.
On the way to the conference, I and other delegates received a heads up from some front line folks that there would be a protest happening at the Wall Centre—the prestigious hotel complex hosting the conference that year—in which homeless folks from Downtown Eastside and all over the Vancouver area would organize and protest the conference. Many of us joined the protest, marching and wheeling in solidarity with the protestors and homeless of Vancouver. We were defying protocol and polite etiquette, in protesting the very meeting that we had been invited, and paid for, to attend.
You can imagine the tension created in those hours of protest. It was surreal. Indigenous land rights activist Audrey Siegl was among the organizers of the protest and we quickly met with her and let her know that we were lived experience folks standing in solidarity with the homeless. We walked in the rain as they chanted and we chanted with them. A few lived experience folks marched on either side of the group through the streets of Vancouver, and when we caught each other’s attention, we stared in a way that acknowledged that we understood why we were here.
This was not a stance in defiance of the CAEH, but a civil action through which we could assist in creating some sense of inclusion and solidarity. We wanted to allow the people who were making the decisions to see first hand the people that they were representing and aimed to help. We intended to show that we would stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who were now going through the actual lived experience, the school of hard knocks. We knew that we could be connectors, bringing activists and managers together to challenge homelessness.
And so we marched. We marched and wheeled to the Wall Centre where we were met with security guards locking us out of the hotel. We were met by lineups of police at the opening of the hotel doors. It was a disheartening process to watch, and very hard to navigate through, but we all did it, civilly, peacefully, and respectfully. The attendees of the conference hadn't seen anything like this before: participants in the event that was the target of the protest actually standing alongside and in agreement with the people protesting, who had some very valid input and direction to give to the professionals filling the seats in the workshops and speaking events. This was a momentous time, and the energy filling the air that evening and for the rest of the conference was buzzing with new possibilities.
The next morning, the allies in lived experience who joined the protest would unite and gather in a meeting room provided by the conference to talk about our experiences. That conversation was the beginning of the Lived Experience Advisory Council, a dynamic group of amazing advocates and voices from across the country, coast to coast to coast, who have created a constant ally-activist dialogue to ensure that grassroots voices are included and have full participation in processes that implement change in ending homelessness across Canada. We are a great intersectional voice with combined years and years of professional, academic and lived experience knowledge, and we pull together the threads of vibrant networks and visionary projects from our local organizing across the country. We know that sometimes, we need to step outside protocol and etiquette to ensure all voices are heard.
We left Vancouver determined to continue working together. In spite of distance, lack of access to technology, precarious housing, poverty, and the complications and crises that beset our daily lives, we stayed connected. In 2015, thanks to funding from CAEH and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, we would find our way to the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Montréal where we presented several workshops: a session on autonomous housing options with Take Back the Land Movement leader Rob Robinson; an activist-ally dialogue in which we connected with lived experience activists and professional allies from across Canada; and a session focused on the Nothing About Us Without Us principles that are being published today.
Out of our experiences as invited guests to CAEH conferences and many other such meetings, we have also created a Checklist for Planning Inclusive and Accessible Events, to alert event organizers to the big questions and little details that make the difference for us and members of our communities.
These documents provide the blueprint for meaningful engagement of people with lived experience in the National Housing Strategy consultations. The consultations must include lived experts at the table at every stage, and the NHS must incorporate mechanisms for ongoing participation of people facing poverty and homelessness at every level: in service delivery, program planning, policy making, and monitoring and evaluation of the Strategy.
Homelessness and poverty are not just about inadequate housing and incomes. More fundamentally, they are about exclusion. Members of our communities have been silenced, disregarded, and shut out for too long. It is only by opening the doors to equal participation by all that we can finally put an end to homelessness in Canada.
Securing reliable employment and having access to adequate and affordable housing are critical first steps in the immigration settlement process. Newcomers, including immigrants and refugees, often face increasing barriers to affordable housing. This puts many newcomers at risk of homelessness because of various factors, including poverty, discrimination, racism, cuts to social programs, unrecognized foreign employment and educational credentials, delays in work permits and/or health related issues. As a result, more immigrants and refugees are requiring shelter, drop-in and housing assistance in addition to settlement services.
The vast majority of foreign-born population live in larger urban centres in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta. However, it is important to note that homelessness among newcomers is not exclusively an urban, inner-city phenomenon. Research studies focusing on homelessness in rural and northern communities highlight the importance of recognizing the distinct needs of newcomers in these settings. However, the high prevalence of hidden homelessness, precarious housing and overcrowding adds complexity to the issue, making it difficult to properly measure its extent. Although the total number of newcomers experiencing homelessness is unknown, communities across Canada are including questions in their point-in-time counts to get a greater sense of the figures.
The needs of newcomers experiencing homelessness are often different than of those who are Canadian-born. Many are adjusting to a new language and culture, lacking in social capital and/or facing unique challenges with respect to housing, employment, health and legal issues. Newcomers struggling to secure employment and housing often adopt survival strategies to navigate their new host society. Should these coping systems fail, they may not only feel an intensified loss of their home but also anxiety, isolation and/or separation from their limited networks, culture, family and history.
In terms of service provision, a study in Toronto found that in general, clients felt that the settlement agencies were supportive and sufficient in numbers. Many, offer a range of programs including housing assistance, youth programming, employment counseling, language training and/or health services. Despite also offering one-on-one counseling, employment services and life-skills programs, a study in Vancouver concluded that shelter providers and their staff tend not to have the necessary skills and/or resources to effectively serve newcomers. On the other hand, rural communities not only lack rental housing, emergency shelters and other essential services for people experiencing homelessness, but may not have settlement agencies to effectively support them. Although there have been no broad systemic attempts to develop accessible and responsive shelter and drop-in services, this is increasing, especially in urban areas.
As part of our multicultural Canadian identity, it is in Canada’s best interest to welcome, support and learn from newcomers, rather than expect them to learn from Canadian society.
Homelessness can be tough to discuss with children because it can lead to conversations about many other complex topics, but it is possible. How we talk to children about homelessness depends on their age and how they best learn, as well as the discussion context (home with family or caregivers; or at school with teachers).
Talking with children as parents/caregivers
Of course, the “best” tactic here is the one that the parents/caregivers are most comfortable with – they know the kids best! That said, these early talks have a profound effect on how kids understand homelessness and people experiencing it. As Betsy Brown Braun wrote for The Huffington Post blog last year, many kids haven’t yet formed opinions about homelessness, so these conversations are crucial:
It is important to understand that homelessness is not a “loaded” issue for the child... yet. His questions about a homeless person usually stem from genuine curiosity. That person doesn’t fall into any of the categories of people with whom he is familiar. He is not passing judgment; he is wondering. The young child’s initial impression is heavily influenced by the parent’s affect, actions, and responses to his questions. And it is by observation of the parent that the child first gets his cues about how to react and feel. So, as you answer your child’s questions, be aware of the attitude you may be projecting.
Further on in the post, she states that we should aim to convey compassion and empathy in our responses. Given the immense degree of stigma and discrimination that people experiencing homelessness face every day, I completely agree. So what might those kinds of responses look like?
With younger children, I’ve been told that the simpler the answer is, the better. For example, here is how my sister responded to my six-year-old niece when she first asked why someone was sleeping on the sidewalk:
I explained to her that they are just like us but things have happened in their lives that have brought them to this point. I told her that we are lucky to have the resources and support we have; and that they sometimes need support, so that’s why we give them money or food when we have it. I didn’t have to go much further than that, but more questions tend to come later.
My niece probably isn’t fully ready to understand concepts like poverty, family conflict, class inequality, trauma, and all the other major pathways to homelessness; but she is able to understand the need to help people and not blame them for their circumstances. In a few sentences, my sister conveyed that homelessness isn’t caused by any one thing, that it can happen to anyone, and that housing in our society is a privilege. As children get older and ask deeper questions, responses can grow accordingly.
Talking to kids as educators
The Homeless Hub’s Education section has a number of lesson plans and suggested activities for children of all ages. (Many of these resources will be helpful to parents and other caregivers as well.) In 2009, the Homelessness and Housing Umbrella Group (HHUG) created a number of resources for educators in the Waterloo, Ontario region. Though some of the materials are area-specific, they can be customized for any municipality. Similarly, its general guidelines for classroom discussions about homelessness are appropriate for any education context:
Encourage open discussion about what students know about homelessness and about any questions they might have.
Address stereotypes as they arise with facts (i.e., The Truth about Homelessness, p.6-8).
Help students become more aware of what their home means to them. Link what their home means to them to how they might feel if they did not have a home.
Explain that being homeless means that one does not have a place to call home. It might be for a day or two or for many weeks or months. Talk about how difficult it is.
Help students understand that being homeless doesn’t mean that someone has done something wrong. It isn’t an illness and it certainly isn’t anything someone wants. It can be a result of difficult times in a person’s life.
Discuss the different places people might live if they don’t have a home (i.e., shelter,car, with friends).
Explain that there are single people, families, and children who do not have a home.
Read stories and books about people from all walks of life and/or about homelessness (p.37). Help students to realize that in spite of differences, people experience many of the same feelings.
Conclude discussions of homelessness with ideas about how students and communities can help people who don’t have a home (p.37).
In terms of specific activities, primary-level students need to build a basic understanding of poverty and homelessness. This integrated unit was developed in Toronto in 2008 and can be used in a variety of classes and grades. Activities include reading picture books like Fly Away Home and reflecting on the characters and the meaning of home, true/false exercises, mock food and utility budgets, creating multimedia and/or poetry quilts, and more.
At the secondary-level, students can gain a deeper understanding of homelessness through more advanced activities. One example is this unit on learning about homelessness through drama (grades 9-12, can be modified for 6-8), which includes a simulated emergency relocation and other exercises that have students imagine what it might be like to be homeless. These activities all encourage empathy through experience. To see how some Markham, Ontario students responded to learning through drama, check out their five Street Stories.
Do you have any suggestions or favourite resources on addressing homelessness with children that you’d like to share? Leave us a comment here or post them in our Community Workspace.
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide a research-based answer.
Photo: "Home" drawn by Eleanor in 2003 at Edmunds Elementary School, Unsheltered Lives: An Interdiscplinary Resource and Activity Guide for Teaching About Homelessness in Grades K-12
Housing stability is a complicated topic. There is very little agreement on what stability actually means. For some, supportive housing stability might mean that people with historically erratic tenancy and eviction patterns come to remain housed in one place for a longer period of time; for others it might mean that their quality of life in housing has improved sufficiently to begin to work again, regain lost relationships or successfully manage health. Regardless of what stability might ideally mean, we can all agree that stability is a good thing and we want to make it the common experience for people. If this does not happen, the result is pretty simple: people come to live in precarious housing situations and we know that many of these people will end up in some kind of homelessness.
One of the most serious threats to housing stability is a phenomenon called “Cuckooing” in the U.K., and involves the commandeering of a home by unwanted parties, often for the purpose of drug trafficking. There is surprisingly little in the way of research directly linked to this phenomenon anywhere that I could find. In fact, in Canada, only Crime Prevention Ottawa (2013) has produced a study for the rest of us to look at.
In the CPO study, the problem is discussed as Housing Unit Takeovers (CPO, 2013:1). In the Ottawa study, it was discovered that approximately ¾ of front line workers surveyed had encountered the problem with their clients, some as often as ten times. No one actually knows how many takeovers have occurred in Ottawa or anywhere else because this data is particularly difficult to obtain, yet the CPO study and preliminary research for a similar study in Toronto suggest that the problem is not restricted to social or supportive housing, but occurs frequently in regular market and privately owned housing as well. In fact, in the latter categories, we have fairly little chance of really knowing how vast the problem might be. There is more urgency to address the issue in publicly supported housing because, for the most part, the most vulnerable tenants are found in this sector.
Housing Unit takeovers occur when housing predators use drugs, violence, sex, economic and social supports to manipulate tenants into accommodating unwanted occupations of their housing space. Takeovers are widespread in Toronto where The Dream Team, partly funded by the City of Toronto Community Safety Initiative, has begun exploratory research into the problem. “The Dream Team began as a group of consumer/survivors and family members dedicated to demonstrating the life-altering benefits of supportive housing for people living with mental illness, while reducing mental health stigma". Today, the Dream Team is a consumer/survivor group and they operate out of their sponsoring agency, Houselink Community Homes.
The current project is called the Safe At Home Project (SAH). They are currently looking for resident and non-resident participants for their surveys and interviews. In pre-study discussions with frontline staff and staff focus groups, 100% (N=approximately 15) admitted to experiencing takeovers in the lives of their clients, and additionally, more troubling, to feeling absolutely helpless about how to deal with the problem.
Takeovers happen because many tenants are vulnerable. Vulnerability is also a difficult concept to define. Vulnerability is most obvious in the following tenant groups: people who are poor; people with physical and mental illnesses; single working mothers; the elderly, and addicts, including alcoholics and sex addicts. The nature of these particular dependencies will be addressed in further posts about this research. But here, it is important to recognize just as CPO had suggested, that vulnerability is really a way of saying that certain people are more likely to make bad decisions about who they let into their homes and their lives when the supports to address or reduce the harm caused by having unmet real needs are not present.
Because of this propensity to “let” people in, CPO and even preliminary research for Safe At Home, imagines a “complicit victim” (CPO, 2013:2). Those optics look bad. They suggest a tenant who “wants” the takeover to happen. This is not true. Even though the tenant might knowingly let a drug dealer use his or her apartment to deal out of in exchange for drugs, this should in no way suggest that the complicit victim is to be blamed for the result. In fact, one of the reasons that so few people come forward to discuss the problem is they fear being blamed – and it is this blame the victim discourse that stands in the way of “Outting” the issue properly.
Takeovers are not simple either. In one case discussed by frontline staff in the SAH, an elderly man is a victim of takeovers because of the complex nature of his needs. First he is elderly and poor, lonely and self-medicates, and suffers a developmental issue, so he is a perfect storm of sorts where his multiple vulnerabilities make him an easy target. He had taken to letting strippers from a downtown Toronto club use his apartment after their shifts. According to this elderly man, they would provide him drugs, sex and use his apartment to entertain their “johns”. But he wanted it to stop. After some counseling and discussion, he had discussed how he wanted to stop these people from bothering him, but he had become fearful that when he left his unit they would retaliate. So he let the problem continue and to date, there really is no practical intervention available, except to perhaps involve Police Services. But I think we can all see where that might be a problem for someone who is fearful to begin with. So one of the key issues with these takeovers is that once they start, they seem impossible to end amicably.
There are more consequences than merely being afraid, CPO sites illegal activities in the home, violence, abuse, theft, financial exploitation and more. Once again the end game of most concern to me as a homelessness researcher: takeovers often lead to eviction and a return to unstable housing or homelessness. What we need to do is really understand the size and shape of the issue before throwing in the towel.
Once again, the anatomy of a takeover will be discussed in a subsequent blog. However, with this seemingly implacable problem, the only way to really address the issue is to prevent it from happening in the first place. To some degree we can try to filter out predators from entering housing spaces. But this is very problematic. So we also need to help vulnerable people understand when they are in the midst of a lifestyle that could lead to a takeover. One of the things CPO had done very well was to produce a series of practical videos and toolkits for advocates, tenants and others to use to inform and to prevent takeovers. It is this goal that drives the SAH as well.
Over the next 8 months, Safe At Home will be using interviews, surveys, public addresses and focus groups to explore the scope and types of housing unit takeovers in a sample of Toronto’s housing community. Special care has been taken to ensure the anonymity of participants. The goal is to devise a toolkit for tenants and housing providers and to help the city formally address this hidden but widespread problem. If you are interested in participating please do not hesitate to contact SAH.
Safe At Home Housing Unit Takeover Task Force
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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.