Understanding LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada

Posted Jun 3rd, 2021 in Research and Advocacy

For over 20 years, Start Me Up Niagara has been offering a variety of services to individuals who face significant life challenges to provide them with opportunities to stabilize, participate and grow. This has always included black, indigenous, persons of colour, and persons from the LGBTQ2S community.

In honour of Pride Month, we wanted to share some of the advocacy and research exceptional organizations like The 519, Homeless Hub, Canadian Coalition Against LGBTQ+ Poverty (CCALP), Re:searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health, and Canadian Mental Health Association have shared over this growing issue of LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada.

Patterns of Poverty

As Jacqueline Gahagan, professor of Health Promotion at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Health, stated in a 2020 interview with CBC News, “The root of the issue is that we don’t have great data, and we certainly don’t have great support for homeless LGBTQ youth.” Tragically, the full extent of the problem isn’t known here in Niagara, in Ontario, or across Canada. Gahagan notes that “LGBTQ2S youth have a lot of difficulties finding shelters that openly support their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Because of the violence, ridicule, and bullying, many LGBTQ2S have experienced at home in school. They have internalized the need to keep their sexuality or identity a secret, especially if it’ll mean likely being denied services or harmed while staying at a shelter.

From David Brooke, CBC News, “more training for shelter staff, education and acceptance programs for shelter residents, construction of separate LGBTQ2S bathrooms or LGBTQ2S-only shelters have all been floated as possible solutions. But all of that requires money, and it’s hard to get cash from the government or other donors without being able to describe the size of the problem.

The United States and various agencies in the U.S. have done a better job of collecting and analyzing the data. From “New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community,” Badgett, Durso, and Schneebaum write, “recent U.S. Census Bureau data demonstrates the persistence of higher poverty rates for African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, children, single mothers, people with disabilities, and other groups, for example. An earlier Williams Institute study and other research showed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people were also more vulnerable to being poor, and this study updates and extends that earlier report.” (M.V. Lee Badgett, Laura E. Durso, & Alyssa Schneebaum)

LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada

For over two decades, limited Canadian research has indicated that LGBTQ2S youth are disproportionately represented among youth experiencing homelessness. However, they are often underrepresented in shelters and housing programs due to safety, violence, and discrimination. Family conflict resulting when a young person comes out as LGBTQ2S is the leading cause of homelessness amongst LGBTQ2S youth. Discrimination in housing, education, and other contexts prevents LGBTQ2S youth from accessing the supports needed to move out of poverty. The Canadian Mental Health Association also highlights that although lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer-identified (LGBTQ) people are as diverse as the general Canadian population in their experiences of mental health and well-being, they face higher risks for some mental health issues due to the effects of discrimination and the social determinants of health.

  • 150,000 young people experiencing homelessness in Canada
  • 25-40% of homeless youth in Canada identify as LGBTQ2S
  • 35,000 homeless youth in Toronto (6,000/night)
  • 21% of youth in Toronto shelters identify as LGBTQ2S
Though interest in the issue of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness is growing, few housing programs meet the needs of LGBTQ2S youth across Canada. In 2015, the Government of Alberta became the first province in Canada to prioritize LGBTQ2S youth through a targeted plan reflecting the unique needs of LGBTQ2S youth. Doing so provides stakeholders, government, and communities with a shared understanding of the causes of homelessness experienced by this population and the requirements of LGBTQ2S youth and service providers and offers recommendations for solutions.
A Reality for Many
  • LGBTQ2S youth have difficulty finding shelters where they feel safe and respected; they experience high rates of discrimination and violence in shelters.
  • LGBTQ2S-specific housing options are an essential component in addressing youth homelessness and meeting the needs of LGBTQ2S youth.
  • LGBTQ2S youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population but underrepresented in shelters
Intersectionality & Poverty

Intersecting identities - LGBTQ2S people may also be Indigenous people, women, people with disabilities, racialized people, newcomers, refugees, people with precarious immigration status, single parents, and members of other communities that have been identified as at risk for poverty.

Further, poverty is experienced uniquely at each of these intersections; for example, LGBTQ2S newcomers to Canada are disadvantaged by both racism and homophobia, and Two-Spirit people experience incredibly high rates of poverty and homelessness.

Lack of Research

Many agencies that advocate and provide services for the LGBTQ2S and homeless youth in Niagara, Ontario, and across Canada are calling on provincial and federal leaders to make funding available to study the extent of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness in Canada. These agencies are also seeking policymakers to come up with solutions to LGBTQ2S homelessness in the short term.

While few studies examine the relationship between the LGBTQ2S community and poverty in Canada, data in the United States and Canada suggests that LGBTQ2S members are more likely to be low-income than their non-LGBTQ2S counterparts. In the Canadian Community Health Survey, from 2005, Canadian data is limited regarding sexual identity statistics; however, U.S. data indicate that female same-sex couples and bisexual individuals are more likely to be low income. Similar to U.S. data, the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey shows that bisexual individuals, especially bisexual women, are more likely to be in poverty.

What is Behind the Overrepresentation

Sadly, Canadian LGBTQ2S youth are overrepresented in poverty statistics, with Between 25 and 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ2S. Studies suggest that this is due to rejection from family members during the coming out process. Barriers in housing and education also prevent LGBTQ2S youth from accessing services and support. Services with a “one size fits all” approach to poverty can also contribute to LGBTQ2S members falling through cracks in services, making it essential for services to understand the community’s unique needs.

Recommendations by the Canadian Coalition Against LGBTQ+ Poverty (CCALP) to address the high rate of LGBTQ+ people experiencing poverty
  • LGBTQ2S people be explicitly identified as a group at risk for poverty
  • LGBTQ2S-specific data be collected to measure the success of Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS) activities in addressing poverty for LGBTQ2S people.
  • Preventing, reducing, and ending LGBTQ2S youth homelessness be a priority in Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS), including through collaborations with the provinces and territories
  • Actions to address child poverty in Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS) be accessible to all families regardless of parental gender and/or marital status
  • Canada’s Employment Equity Act be expanded to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and that these protections extend to private sector employment.
  • Steps are taken to ensure that LGBTQ2S people can access the income supports they are entitled to without fear of discrimination.
  • Poverty reduction initiatives targeting specific groups at risk for poverty attend to LGBTQ2S-specific issues within those groups and measure their success for LGBTQ2S people.
  • Initiatives are developed to enhance the availability of Canadian economic data on LGBTQ2S people.
  • LGBTQ2S people, and particularly those with lived experience of poverty, be consulted and included as key stakeholders in all aspects of Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS).

Studies in the U.S. have shown that children are also disadvantaged by the economic disparities faced by their LGBTQ2S parents. As a result of the wage gap for women, female couples with children are particularly likely to live in poverty (in U.S. Census data, 7.6% compared to 5.7% for heterosexual married couples).

Include the LGBTQ+ as Stakeholders

LGBTQ2S people disproportionately live in poverty and are essential stakeholders for Canada’s new poverty reduction strategy. Many organizations in Niagara and across Canada are asking that policymakers recognize the importance of including LGBTQ2S with lived experience to serve as stakeholders in the development and implementation of any new strategic plan to address poverty, homelessness, unemployment, addiction, access to health and mental care, and other social determinants of health.

Our Pledge: At Start Me Up Niagara, we don’t just accept difference — we celebrate it, support it, and thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, our services, and our community. Start Me Up Niagara is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace.

This post could not have been written without the fantastic work done by agencies and organizations worldwide. Based on reporting and research by Homeless Hub, Canadian Coalition Against LGBTQ+ Poverty (CCALP), and resources from Re:searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health, The 519, Canadian Mental Health Association, and Rainbow Health Ontario.

To learn more about The 519 and the work they do as advocates for the LGBTQ2S community, check out their site - https://www.the519.org/ 

From CMHA: “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer identified People and Mental Health


From CBC News: “Coming out means going homeless for some LGBTQ youth in Nova Scotia


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