by Chris Montanini
Londoners who are vulnerable to homelessness and identify as members of the LGBT community may not feel as comfortable as others accessing services for help, a gap London’s emergency shelters are attempting to address.
Unity Project for Relief of Homelessness in London has taken the lead on a project to promote best practices in emergency shelter services for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. On February 3, Unity Project took the first step by releasing the results of a London-specific needs assessment study that will inform policy changes at London shelters. Changes will include intake procedures, accommodations, washroom and shower use, language, confidentiality, frontline staff and management support, training, and LGBT-specific programs and services, among others.
Chuck Lazenby, executive director of the Unity Project, said current intake forms at local shelters, for example, only offer clients the option to identify as male or female. Making the forms more inclusive could be a small change that helps open doors to a particularly vulnerable portion of Londoners at risk of homelessness.
“We don’t talk about sexuality on intake and I think that really helps us to identify if there’s very specific needs that an individual might (require) as well as what accommodations exist,” Lazenby continued. “I think that this particular population is especially vulnerable, so we want to make sure we’re talking about safety, we want to make sure that we’re making them feel the most comfortable in the shelter, we want to make sure we’re using the proper language, we want to make sure it feels open and safe to have those kinds of conversations.”
The needs assessment study began in 2014 and was funded by the City of London’s Homeless Prevention System though the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The Unity Project brought in Geoff Bardwell, a project co-ordinator, policy and training consultant, to complete the study — a literature review and semi-structured interview process that also included people who identify as intersex, two-spirit, fluid/pansexual, and queer.
Bardwell interviewed 17 LGBT Londoners with lived experience of homelessness in the last five years. Their ages ranged from 19-72, a much broader range than what has been represented in similar Canadian studies, according to Bardwell’s literature review.
“As far as I know, this is the first (Canadian study) that’s been done in a mid-sized city that’s not focusing on youth,” Bardwell said. “In a Canadian context, most research has been done in larger urban settings. Some of the ways in which this research is different is we tried to talk to many stakeholders — so people with lived experience, shelter providers, staff, management and then community partners who offer services that are also serving people who are experiencing homelessness. We got very well rounded ideas in terms of what some of the issues are and we had a bigger focus on age.”
According to the needs assessment, “the main cause of homelessness among LGBT people interviewed in the study was familial discrimination based on one’s gender identity or sexuality.” Other reasons cited in the study include discrimination from landlords and discrimination based on mental health, substance abuse problems or interpersonal issues.
Overall, the needs assessment, which as been welcomed by London’s shelter operators including Salvation Army Centre of Hope and Mission Services of London, recommends 32 policy and procedural changes.
“A lot of the conclusions of the report speak to policy and practice,” Lazenby said. “It’s almost getting us (to) the beginning level of competency so that we actually know what we’re dealing with … and we know how to respond adequately. We’re not even using the proper language, we’re not even asking the proper questions because we just don’t know. We need to know the language people identify with or at least be able to feel comfortable asking those questions and making an open, safe space for that kind of thing to happen. We’re at a very base level here.”
The Unity Project’s next step is to create a training manual for emergency shelter staff. The task has new funding support from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Lutheran Social Services (London), and the Johansen-Larsen Foundation.
Lazenby is hoping some of the changes will also shed light on the number of Londoners at-risk of homelessness who identify as LGBT. She said those types of statistics don’t yet exist in London.
“It would be great, actually, if we could have beds that were specific for the LGBT population, (but) it doesn’t look like there will be funding for that any time soon,” she said. “So as services that exist and do continue to serve that population, we better do it the best that we can.”
Abe Oudshoorn, a local ant-poverty advocate with the London Homeless Coalition, among other homelessness projects, said in an email that LGBT-specific policies are “definitely of interest.”
“We see particular populations struggling more than others, and need to respond accordingly,” he said.
source: The Londoner