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Homeless LGBTQ youth is focus of doctoral student's research

 

By Fred Michah Rynor

I Alex AbramovichToronto's downtown may look inviting and exciting but many who live here do not realize these seemingly safe streets are actually home to hundreds of displaced and abandoned youth.

And while youth homelessness is a much-researched topic in this country, the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual and queer youth who find themselves living on sidewalks had never been looked at in depth before OISE doctoral candidate I. Alex Abramovich took a magnifying glass to this issue.

Abramovich’s study, which includes critical ethnography, participatory research and arts-based input, has been hailed by academics and social workers as a unique look at a growing and desperate problem for sexual and gender minority youth who often don’t have the same support systems that other homeless demographics have.

“Having grown up in Toronto, I’ve always been interested in issues around homelessness because it is such a big problem in this city and an even bigger one for lgbtq youth,” says Abramovich, a student in OISE's Adult Education and Community Development program.

“The last study that measured the issue of lgbtq youth homelessness was conducted thirteen years ago. It estimated that 25 - 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lgbtq but there is not much clarity or understanding regarding what that number looks like today. How do we scale the problem of lgbtq youth homelessness on a national level if support services are not collecting any information on youths’ queer and trans identities? And how do we calculate a problem’s effects if we don’t know how many of these street-involved and homeless youth are actually out there?”

Because of these critical information gaps, Abramovich began a much-lauded conceptual and qualitative study that brought to light the dire need for specialized housing and care for lgbtq youth living on the edges of society.

One of the problems regarding youth homelessness in Toronto is that many come to the ‘big city’ thinking, erroneously, that there are vast opportunities here simply because of the size and reputation of this metropolis. Unfortunately, a large segment of these youth end up as victims of discrimination in the very systems that are meant to help them and in scenarios of drug use, physical and mental abuse and prostitution.

Ironically, Ontario’s capital is known as one of the more advanced cities when it comes to lgbtq issues and services encompassing Canada’s largest queer and trans population (the most recent Greater Toronto Area numbers estimate over 250,000) and is also known for a history of liberal city councillors and mayors, “but it’s only in the past year that City Hall representatives have shown an interest in speaking to me about my study and possible solutions,” Abramovich says. “Now I’m having constructive meetings regarding the possibility of transitional housing for lgbtq youth with people who have the power to make changes in our city.”

One problem is that emergency shelter experts continue to state that there are more than enough beds for the city’s homeless but Abramovich’s study found that lgbtq youth do not feel safe using these traditional shelters due to homophobic and transphobic retaliation from other shelter users.

“There’s still a great deal of denial in the general population and at the municipal level that this problem even exists,” Abramovich states, “but my study, funded in part by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship grant and the 519 Church Street Community Centre here in Toronto, portrays how easy it is to become homeless -- especially for lgbtq youth coming out to unsupportive families.”

This study has gotten widespread coverage due in part to Abramovich’s own “passion for knowledge transfer and social media tools to make this work more accessible and get it out into the world where people can engage with it in user-friendly spaces such as my own website (www.ilona6.com).”

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