Housing Programs

Learning Objectives–At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  1. understand the needs of LGBTQ2S youth who access housing programs.
  2. develop a plan to revise programs to meet the articulated needs of LGBTQ2S youth.

Our shelter system can no longer really be called an emergency response, as youth are staying in shelters too long.

In Canada, there is a growing interest in developing more effective responses to youth homelessness. This is expressed by the desire to shift our efforts from providing homeless youth with bare bone emergency services to a broader and more strategic emphasis on prevention, and models of accommodation that lead to a life of independence and fulfilment (Gaetz, 2012: 4).

As a sector we are now having conversations that include discussions of preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness. A number of organizations are revising existing programs and designing new programs by asking a rather simple sounding, but complicated question of “what would it take to end this youth’s homelessness with this experience”.

The issue for LGBTQ2S youth is that many do not feel safe in our housing programs.

[Y]outh participants described the shelter system as a dangerous place for LGBTQ youth due to widespread discrimination that is rarely dealt with or addressed. Prolific homophobia and transphobia characterized the vast majority of experiences of youth in the shelter system (Abramovich, 2014: 121).

This lack of safety leads many youth to avoid shelters and transitional housing programs. This means that they are not accessing programs that can support them transition to adulthood. This also causes LGBTQ2S youth to experience longer periods of homelessness than non-LGBTQ2S youth. Research shows that the average length of time of away family is 26 months. For youth who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth it is 29 months. Transgender youth experience an average period of 52 months (Cray, 2013).

It quite clear that more needs to be done to support LGBTQ2S youth. One place we need to focus our efforts is in our housing programs. In many communities shelters are the main point of contact for youth. Housing/youth workers connect youth to other services and programs required by the young person. While youth are staying in our shelters we must create safe enough spaces for LGBTQ2S youth and create opportunities for straight, cisgender youth to become allies for LGBTQ2S youth.

One issue is that as service providers, we are unaware of how many LGBTQ2S identified youth we work with. This is because as discussed in the Gender Identity module, our intake forms and other documents exclude LGBTQ2S youth rendering them invisible in our data collection methods. If we don’t know how many youth identify as LGBTQ2S how can we develop a response to the issue and adequately support LGBTQ2S youth. Please see the Identifying Youth Local Context module for a full discussion on this topic.

Many LGBTQ2S youth do not feel safe in the shelter system as they experience homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in shelters and drop-in centres (Abramovich, 2014; O’Brien, Travers, Bell, 1993; Dunne et al., 2002). We know that we can do more to ensure that our housing programs are safe enough spaces for LGBTQ2S youth.

Making Housing Programs Safe Enough for LGBTQ2S Youth

Intake Process

In our focus groups we asked participants “[w]hat would the shelter intake process look like for you to feel comfortable, supported and respected?” Youth told us that we need to make major changes to our intake processes. Our forms and paperwork need to include: sexual orientation, gender identity, chosen name, prefered pronoun. We need to respect the self identity of youth not their legal identity. Youth find the intake process to be long with a considerable amount of retelling their stories and would prefer us to find alternatives to this requirement.

Youth shared that they need staff to respect the confidentiality of youth and exercise discretion with information youth share about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Youth want staff to ask them questions about their needs and treat them as individuals rather than follow a step by step method of case management. They also need staff to use current terminology when discussing LGBTQ2S issues. Youth need staff to receive training and understand not only the importance of creating safe enough spaces, but also understand what is needed to build safe enough spaces.

Youth would like our spaces to have visible cues that our organizations are LGBTQ2S positive spaces. Our spaces need to have all gender washrooms when and where possible as washrooms are often a hostile space for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.


Develop a script you will (would use if you are not currently involved in the intake press) use during the intake of youth into your program that illustrates you are a LGBTQ2S ally and that you have a working knowledge of LGBTQ2S terminology and issues.

Please feel free to share your script in the comments sections of this module or in the Training Forum.

Case Management

In our focus groups we asked participants “[w]hat do you need to feel comfortable, supported and respected during your stay at a shelter/in housing?” Youth shared that there needs to be compatibility between themselves and their primary worker. Once again youth stressed that staff need to be trained to have cultural competence to work with LGBTQ2S youth. Staff need to ask youth for their preferred pronoun. Staff need to ensure that there is zero tolerance of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language and actions within the shelter. Youth also believe that organizations need to set a high standard for training and aptitude when hiring staff.

Youth also shared that they need our spaces to have trans inclusive living spaces and washrooms. Youth also would like to see spaces where they can practice their spirituality (for example, smudging or prayer). Further youth would like organizations to host inclusive programming (LGBTQ2S specific groups, separate trans groups) and accessible clothing options (not just women’s clothing options at a women’s shelter). Youth would also like to have access to LGBTQ2S sex education and information/pamphlets available on binding, hormone availability, safe practices, available programs and resources or knowledge on where to get this information. Youth need us to be committed to a harm reduction approach to our work. They also need to be able to access transport supports so they can access the external services they require.


You are facilitating a residents meeting. One resident calls another resident a tranny during the meeting. How do you respond? What organizational resources (e.g. policies) can you use to support your actions? What resources would you recommend be developed and implemented to support staff dealing with a similar situation in the future?

What would your response be if you did not hear the interaction? How would it differ? What organizational resources (e.g. policies) can you use to support your actions?

Please feel free to share your response in the comments sections of this module or in the Training Forum.


In our focus groups we asked participants “[w]hat do you need from the shelter and/or staff to feel comfortable, supported and respected during your exit process?” Youth told us it was critical that we develop an exit plan with them well in advance of their exit date. We also need to provide or connect them to after care supports that are appropriate for LGBTQ2S youth. We also need to ask youth what supports they still require access to (e.g. drop-in programs, employment programs, shelter bed, etc) with identity of the youth being respected and considered in the referral process. Youth require appropriate referrals for medical services, addictions support, etc. Prior to exiting our programs, youth would like service providers to inform them about and connect them to community resources. And is in the intake process and case management phase, youth want staff to be receive appropriate training to support LGBTQ2S youth.


A youth on your caseload is leaving your organization to move to a larger community, because they believe they will have more opportunities there. What actions would you take to support this youth as they plan their move?

Please feel free to share your response in the comments sections of this module or in the Training Forum.


Abramovich, A. (2014). Young, Queer and Trans, Homeless, and Besieged: A Critical Action Research Study of How Policy and Culture Create Oppressive Conditions for LGBTQ Youth in Toronto’s Shelter System (unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.

Cray, A., Miller, K., & Durso, L.E. (2013). Seeking Shelter: Experiences and  Unmet Needs of LGBT Homeless Youth. Washington DC: Centre for American Progress.

Dunne, G. A., Prendergast, S., & Telford, D. (2002). Young, gay, homeless and invisible: A growing population? Culture, Health & Sexuality, 4(1), 103-115.

Gaetz, Stephen; Scott, Fiona (2012). Live, Learn, Grow: Supporting Transitions to Adulthood for Homeless Youth – A Framework for the Foyer in Canada. (Toronto: The Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press).

O’Brien, C. A., Travers, R., & Bell, L. (1993). No safe bed: Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth in residential services. Toronto, ON: Central Toronto Youth Services.
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