This report summarizes findings from interviews and surveys conducted from December 2018 to October 2019 with 42 participants, including 33 youth at-risk of, and experiencing, homelessness and 9 key informants from youth-serving organizations across York Region in order to understand the unique needs and experiences of LGBTQ2S youth at-risk of, and experiencing, homelessness in York Region.
The key findings from this research project increase our understanding of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness in York Region and provide a “snapshot” of the experiences, barriers, challenges and needs of LGBTQ2S youth at-risk of, and experiencing, homelessness across York Region.
Pathways to Homelessness
Every young person’s pathway into homelessness is unique, complex and often caused by numerous factors. The major pathway into homelessness identified by youth participants was family conflict, which included LGBTQ2S identity-based family rejection. Youth reported a variety of reasons for family conflict, including abuse, mental health issues, and alcohol and substance use problems. Additionally, over half of the youth interviewed reported previous involvement with child protection services.
Experiences of Homelessness
Youth homelessness is often characterized by precarious and unstable housing. After leaving home, youth often live in a variety of places temporarily (friends, couch surfing, emergency shelters, parks). Youth who leave home may try to return, but often face the same problems they previously faced resulting in them leaving again. The majority of youth reported couch surfing and staying at emergency shelters currently and/or previously. LGBTQ2S youth experience hidden homelessness in York Region, due to the common experience of couch surfing.
Age of First Experiencing Homelessness
The average age at which participants first left home was 18 years old. A significant finding was that 28% of participants reported leaving home at age 16 or younger. This is important to note as youth who leave home earlier have been found to experience more difficulties in the long run and multiple episodes of homelessness.
Despite the high rates of family conflict and estranged family relationships reported by youth, many had regular contact with at least one family member. Most youth reported that family contact is important and that they wanted to improve their relationship with a family member.
Youth reported a variety of experiences regarding identifying as LGBTQ2S in York Region. Some felt that their identity had to be hidden and were fearful of people finding out that they identify as LGBTQ2S, while others felt that they had support from friends, family, and service providers.
Youth participants accessed an array of programs and services across York Region and in surrounding areas, including counselling, case management, and emergency housing. Youth reported a lack of LGBTQ2S specialized services in York Region, and even fewer services available outside of Richmond Hill and in more rural parts of York Region. Numerous youth expressed the need for LGBTQ2S inclusive services in York Region, particularly support groups and housing programs. Many youth reported being unable to access emergency shelters and having to travel to Toronto or other communities for emergency housing.
Youth were unaware of many of the services and programs currently available in York Region and felt that youth-serving agencies could do a better job with outreach and advertising. Youth reported experiencing numerous barriers when accessing social support and health services. Barriers included long waitlists, loss of trust in services, difficulties navigating services, and transportation issues.
Health and Well-Being
Overall, physical and mental health was a concern for many youth. The majority of youth reported experiencing emotional, psychological, and/or mental health conditions. Specifically, we found a high prevalence of depression, anxiety, and alcohol and substance use. Many youth reported that their mental health and/or alcohol and substance use was interfering with their lives in some capacity. Self-harm and suicide were also major concerns for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness. Almost 75% of youth reported that they had self-harmed without the intention of suicide in the past year and 1 in 3 had attempted suicide in the past year. Many youth expressed having poor physical health and health conditions, but were unable to pay for care or find gender-affirming health care providers. The majority of youth experienced food insecurity in some form, due to monetary issues.
- LGBTQ2S inclusive standardized model of service delivery
- Support the delivery of population-based housing options for LGBTQ2S youth
- Support the delivery of LGBTQ2S inclusive drop-in programs for youth and young adults
- Improve systems navigation across York Region
- Increase mental health supports for LGBTQ2S youth
- Subsidize travel costs
- Prevention plan
- Expand staff training