We began this chapter on Gender & Queer Studies with a story about a hotel door hanger that can be used to ask for privacy, with pearls on one side and a tie on the other. We used this to set the stage for our discussion about the complexity of gender and sexual identities that cannot be adequately captured or expressed in an object with only two sides.


At the start of the chapter, we introduced you to the composite characters Shruti and Mia, who were each experiencing homelessness in their own unique way. The scenarios were presented as an entry point into thinking about the complexity of homelessness. We returned to these individuals’ stories again at the end to demonstrate how they can help us understand the foundational concepts of being trauma-informed, person-centred, socially inclusive, and situated within the social determinants of health as critical for understanding homelessness in Canada


We asked you to consider three questions along the way, with the guidance of leading homelessness researchers.


First we asked, ‚ÄúWhat is unique about the experience of homelessness for women?‚ÄĚ Here we considered the experience of cisgender women, transgender women, and gender diverse individuals. We saw that they often try to remain hidden as a means of protection and seek emergency supports only when other options run out. They are often the victims of gender-based violence and experience considerable trauma throughout their lives. When women experience homelessness, they often do so within the context of mothering as either active caregivers or in grief over having their children removed from their custody. Cisgender women also have to navigate reproductive issues, such as pregnancy or menstruation.


Next we asked, ‚ÄúDo men and women have different needs, when experiencing homelessness?‚ÄĚ This question had both a simple and more complex response. On the one hand, the fundamental needs are the same. Everyone needs safe housing, good health care, a livable income, and to feel included. How these needs are expressed and obtained are what differ between men, women, and gender diverse individuals. We saw this emerge through quality of life studies that identified different factors that contributed to well-being for women and for men. Gender expression is complex, and we considered how notions of traditional masculinity are both challenged and reproduced on the streets.


Finally, we asked, ‚ÄúWhy is there a high rate of homelessness in the LGBTQ2S+ community?‚ÄĚ We began this section by considering the term itself and learning that 20-40% of youth experiencing homelessness are estimated to identify this way. These young people may have multiple pathways to the street, but identity-based family conflict is a primary reason this rate is so high. Prevailing notions of heterocisnormativity can be found in many homes, as well as in homelessness sector agencies. These youth face high rates of discrimination and consequently have poor mental health and high rates of substance use, self-harm, and suicide. Supporting these individuals requires tailored supports that are safe, inclusive, and reflective of their intersecting identities. We must also remember that while there are many young people who experience homelessness and identify as LGBTQ2S+, there are also many adults and seniors in this population who are discriminated against and under-served as well. Efforts towards creating LGBTQ2S+ services, like the YMCA Sprott House, are encouraging but need to be part of a coordinated effort to create widespread and sustained change.


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Understanding Homelessness in Canada Copyright © 2022 by Kristy Buccieri, James Davy, Cyndi Gilmer, and Nicole Whitmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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