Invisible and forgotten: Queer youth homelessness

Homelessness policy is failing queer youth, finds Amy Davis.

terrace houses

To date little research has been undertaken in relation to queer youth experiences of homelessness in Australia. It is difficult to estimate the rate of homelessness among this population since homelessness statistics are not collected on sexuality and gender identity. However, in NSW it has been estimated that although only 7-11 per cent of people are same-sex attracted or gender diverse they constitute roughly 25 per cent of the young people who are homeless.

Parental rejection and family violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity have been cited as causes of homelessness for young queer people in Australia. Research indicates that queer youth report higher rates of negative outcomes associated with homelessness including physical and sexual victimisation, substance abuse, mental health issues, suicidal ideation and ‘risky’ sexual practices.

Most state and federal homelessness policies fail to demarcate queer people as having particular needs when accessing homelessness services. In most policy documents queer youth homelessness is seemingly subsumed within generalist youth homelessness policies. This fails to recognise or attempt to rectify the structural and institutional factors that may prevent queer young people from having full access to homelessness services.

Violence, harassment and discrimination

Research from Australia, the US, and the UK has consistently found queer youth regularly experience harassment, violence and homophobic and transphobic abuse when accessing accommodation services, from both workers and other service users. For many queer people, this not only means that they do not feel comfortable disclosing their sexuality or gender identity when accessing services, but also that some young people prefer to sleep rough rather than access accommodation services.

Queer awareness and cultural competency training needs to be undertaken by all agencies and service workers in the homelessness sector to engage more effectively with young people of different sexual and gender. This should also be extended to young heterosexual people who access support and accommodation services. Furthermore, there should be a requirement that all agencies that seek government funding to assist homeless young people adopt non-discrimination policies for queer youth.

Inadequate provision of resources

Research from the United States recommends that services should be funded to provide housing programs specifically for queer people as queer youth are significantly less likely to be assaulted in such facilities. Queer youth homelessness is currently significantly underfunded in NSW with funding to accommodate only 140 young people despite estimations that 5,000 and 6,250 same-sex attracted youth are homeless in Australia on any
given night.

Inadequate data collection

Currently, Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) reporting requirements do not include sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, meaning that queer youth are invisible within the homelessness sector and that services for this population are not properly funded. As such, data collected by SHS needs to be inclusive of sexual diversity, intersex status and gender identity as a way of better targeting support and accommodation needs of queer young homeless people. Young people should be given the opportunity to record these personal details on intake forms but that they not be forced to do so. In addition policies and programs should be put in place to increase the accessibility of homelessness services for queer people to ensure that these youth feel safe using services and disclosing their identities.

Conclusion

Queer youth are an invisible and forgotten population within homelessness public policy, however, this is not to say that they are unaffected by these policies. The department of Family and Community Services  and Housing NSW should develop and implement programs and strategies to make homelessness services more accessible for queer youth. Young queer people should be actively involved in this process as they know best what can make
a difference in their lives.

Image: Lane Sainty.

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