High proportion of LGBTQ youth among homeless, say researchers

A new study from Ottawa says about half of homeless youth in that city identify as LGBTQ. Researchers say the numbers are similar for other parts of Canada, including Waterloo Region.

Family conflict cited as one of top factors

Jessica Del Rosso receives a women's leadership award from Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife in May 2013. Del Rosso was forced to leave her family home as a teenager for her sexual orientation. (Matthew Kang/CBC)

When Jessica Del Rosso was 15, she was spotted by her mother holding hands with her then-girlfriend. Soon after, she was kicked out of her family home and was forced to couch-surf at friends' homes for some time until she moved into foster care.

"Not only do you feel like you have nowhere to go, but it’s like wow, I just got rejected by my parents for being who I am," said Del Rosso.

Academics who study homelessness in the country say stories like Del Rosso’s are common across Canada -- researchers in Ottawa estimate that between 40 and 50 per cent of the city's homeless youth population identify as LGBTQ, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

Alex Abramovich, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto who has been studying this topic for the past seven years, says those numbers are mirrored in other Canadian cities. While few studies are available to illustrate rates of LGBTQ homelessness in Canada, Abramovich said in an interview that existing research indicates the community is over-represented in the national homeless population.

One of the main causes for these numbers is family conflict when a young person decides to come out to his or her parents, he said.

"A lot of parents do hold that mentality where they say 'Oh yeah absolutely, I’m not homophobic, I’m not transphobic, as long as it’s not my own children,'" said Abramovich.

Youth shelter use in Waterloo Region up almost 25%

In a recent report released by the Region of Waterloo on homelessness, shelter and affordable housing, the number of youth accessing emergency shelters has gone up 24 per cent.

Among all the shelters in the region, the Argus Residence for Young People had the highest guest return rate at 49 per cent. The report says this "speaks to the multiple barriers and challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness, especially for youth who experience homelessness while under 18."

Abramovich says when it comes to reducing the number of LGBTQ homeless youth, more attention should be given to preventative measures. 

"We should place more emphasis on including mandatory LGBTQ training for all shelter staff," said Abramovich. "As well, awareness training and education for parents and children in the school system."