Sleeping on the street

Shout counts 1,000 homo kids

About 1,000 queer kids sleep on the streets every night, a new study reports.

And that’s just those who are sure of their sexual orientation. Add in young people who say they’re “not sure,” and the percentage of queer street kids (which includes bisexuals and the transgendered) jumps to 30 percent of Toronto’s estimated 4,000 homeless youths.

“What young people say to us,” says Shout health clinic program director Anna Travers, “is that… they’re often subject to violence at home, at school, or in the community. A lot of them just find that it’s intolerable to live at home.”

The numbers come from Shout’s recent report, Making Money.

And Travers says the over-representation of homo youth on the street is consistent with studies done in other large North American cities.

Making Money focusses on how street kids make cash, and so doesn’t contain many specifics on Toronto’s homeless queer youth.

Findings include:

31 percent reported having engaged in some sort of sex work, whether it be prostitution, stripping/massage or Internet/phone sex, at least once

36 percent said squeegeeing and panhandling were their main money makers, followed by crime or selling drugs (19 percent), social assistance (18 percent), paid employment (17 percent) and sex work (10 percent)

45 percent reported that a primary barrier to getting work was lack of an address or phone number to put on an application

40 percent of kids now on the street have spent time in foster homes

59 percent of females and 39 percent of males claim to have suffered physical abuse, and 40 percent of females and 19 percent of males claim to have suffered sexual abuse.

Finding mainstream work is hardest for those who have been on the streets longest, says Travers. They’re the ones most likely to be involved with drugs and low-paying sex work, and probably have the lowest level of education.

While Toronto is generally becoming a friendlier city for homo youth, says Travers, street kids are treated just as badly and “seen as being as much of a nuisance” as the street population as a whole.

“The adult community is starting to make really amazing efforts to assist our youth, to make them part of the community,” says Travers, who has herself been involved with the Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Youth. “But I still don’t see a lot of concern being expressed about the young ones who are the most vulnerable, the ones who are on the street, who are homeless, who are in the deepest difficulty.”

Eighty-five percent of the 360 homeless youth surveyed said they were interested in finding paid employment.

This past summer, six peer researchers put together and conducted the survey. Travers says many peer researchers involved in Shout projects use the skills they learn to get jobs.


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