Being LGBTQ+ and Experiencing Homelessness in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, by Wash Silk
If you are reading this you might be worried about becoming homeless or getting kicked out of your house if you come out of the closet or you are worried this might happen to someone you know. Or you might already be experiencing homelessness, like sleeping on a friend’s couch or living in a shelter.
Unfortunately this happens often. Statistics tell us that in Canada approximately 24-40% of youth who are experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+. Click here to learn more. While this might be a big number remember that you are not a statistic.
Experiencing homelessness and feeling rejected from your family or loved ones can be devastating. You might be using all the energy you have to just to keep yourself safe, continuing to go to school. It might be hard to think that this situation could ever change or get better. Here are some of my thoughts on ways take care of yourself if you are a youth experiencing homelessness in the KW area. If you are outside of the KW area some of these points may be helpful for you but you should also contact your local municipality to learn about resources available. If you are looking for LGBTQ+ resources in your area you might find something useful through the Trans Pulse resource list.
- Your first priority is having a safe place to go. Ask yourself if there are any caring adults or good friends in your life right now. Friends, parents, grandparents, cousins? Get in touch with this caring adult and ask if you can stay with them for a while. If you are too nervous to call them on your own (fair enough) a teacher, counsellor or a trusted friend can help you make that call or write that email.
- What if I don’t have a safe place to go? If you do not have any adults in your life you feel that you can reach out to for support, try your guidance counsellor or come to KW Counselling Services on Thursdays for Walk In from 12-6pm.
- You can come to KW Counselling Services to try to talk with your family to find a solution or middle ground.
- There are youth shelters in Kitchener and Cambridge: oneROOF (16-25), Safe Haven (12-18), YWCA (16+) and Argus (16-24). All shelters are required to have a transgender policy and you will be allowed to stay in a shelter or shelter area that matches your gender identity. Shelters should be asking what your preferred name and pronoun are and definitely finding you a place to sleep that respects your gender identity.
- If you are wondering about staying at a shelter here are some thoughts: At oneROOF shelter, youth are not separated by gender (great for gender non-conforming folks or those who do not wish to disclose) and the sleeping area is communal with half wall barriers between folks. They have single stalled, gender-neutral washrooms. At Argus shelters, youth are separated by gender into a male or female shelter, again you can stay at the shelter that matches your gender identity. At Safe Haven they have single occupancy rooms, rooms are not in separate gendered areas (like male wing or female wing) and washrooms are gendered but single stalled. At YWCA all Trans folks (Trans masculine and Trans feminine) are welcome to stay. Rooms are not single occupancy (2-3 folks in a room) but washrooms are single occupancy and gender-neutral.
- Remember you do not have to come out to people if you do not want too — not to shelter staff or your friend’s parents. It is not their business, it’s yours. Your job is to keep yourself safe!
- If you can, try to find a LBGTQ+ shelter staff member. It can helpful to find someone else who has a better understanding of what you are going through.
- Thinking about Toronto?! Okay, of course do you what you think is best, but hear me out, I think it is not always the best option for young people. Many young folks think that Toronto is the gay mecca of Canada and in some ways it is, like for Pride, but it is not a great city to be homeless in. The shelter system is huge, it’s very hard to find a job or housing there, it’s very expensive, but not only that, it means that you won’t be able to continue to go your school here — all your friends and family won’t be around you to provide support. If you do decide to head to Toronto and try your luck there you can check out Egale Youth OUTreach, where they provide support, counselling and food to LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. There is also Sprott House, the only transitional housing for LGBTQ+ youth in Canada. In fact, some statistics state that 1 in 4 young people in Toronto identify as LGBTQ+. That is a lot of folks who need housing and support and you might not get what you need to thrive.
There are also adult shelters that accept youth who are age 16+. They include YWCA, House of Friendship, Bridges and Simcoe house. If you are thinking about going to one of these adult shelters you can call ahead and ask what their transgender policies and rooms look like.
Finding a place to live:
- If you are leaving your house at 16 because the adults in your life do not agree with you being a part of the Rainbow Community here are some practical resources and important facts. Did you know that you are legally able to sign a lease when you are 16? True Story. Learn more here. Signing a lease means you will have the legal responsibility of paying rent and following the rules outlined in your lease agreement. To learn about what can legally be in your lease click It also means you will have rights under the residential landlord tenancy act.
- If you think that you are being discriminated against based upon your age, gender identity or sexual orientation when you are looking for housing or by your landlord, this is breaking the law, specifically the Ontario Human Rights Code. Want to learn what you can do about it? Click here.
- If you are finding an apartment to live independently, Lutherwood has a last month’s rent fund that can provide you with last month’s rent either as a loan or grant (don’t have to pay it back). Click here for more information. Not all apartment living situations qualify so check in with them before signing a lease if you are depending on this funding.
- All shelters have workers whose job it is help people find housing! Even if you are not staying in the shelter, they still might be able to help you find housing. For example, oneROOF’s outreach workers do this all the time. Lutherwood also has a housing support!
Getting Your Stuff:
- Documents like your health card and passport are your property. If your parents/guardians have these documents and are refusing to give them to you, you can ask Waterloo Regional Police to escort you to get these papers from your parents/guardians. You can call WRPS on their non-emergency line to arrange this.
- If you are on your own and cannot live at home you can sign up to receive Ontario Works. This means that you will have some money to pay rent and feed yourself. You can apply online or by calling. Your Ontario Works worker may contact your parents to confirm you cannot live at home. If the situation is unsafe for you at home you need to make that very clear to your worker.
- You can also find employment or even get credits from school for working through co-op or a supportive alternative learning plan. Your employers are not allowed to discriminate based upon gender identity or sexual orientation. If you are concerned about this you can ask to see your potential employer’s anti-discrimination policies.
- If you need health care services and you don’t have a family doctor, every Wednesday at oneROOF a nurse from the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Center is available to see walk in clients. The Kitchener Downtown Community Health Center just recently celebrated becoming an LGBTQ+ positive place and has taken the time to intentionally educate its staff.
- If you want to access medical transition support you can contact Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto to learn more.
Clothes and Food:
- If you need clothes, oneROOF has a room full of clothing donations. You can take clothes that match your gender identity and staff will support you in doing this.
- If you need to find a food bank or other resources it is easy to search on the Region’s new search engine; https://regionofwaterloo.cioc.ca/
If you are leaving your house younger than 16 because the adults in your life do not agree with you being a part of the Rainbow Community here are some good facts to know about our region.
- Safe Haven is the only shelter in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge more geared towards youth who are under the age of 16. At Safe Haven rooms are single occupancy rooms and there is no boys or girls section. They do have single gendered stalled washrooms and you can use the washroom that matches your gender identity.
- You will be able to get support – like finding a safe place to stay and support you need to continue to go school — through Family and Children’s Services. I know it can be scary to reach out for help but you need too. They can help you. Click here for more information.
If you are a parent and worried about your child who has left (or you are worried this could happen) home or run away because of sexual identity here are some things to consider…
- Reach out for support. Isolation is a difficult and terrible thing. You can come to KW Counselling Services and talk with our trained counsellors. You can access oneROOF Family Reconnect Worker, or you can talk to other parents at APSGO or at Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG).
- If poverty is a significant stressor in your life, the Region of Waterloo has a Community Outreach program that can provide you support.
- If you are worried about your child’s safety you can file a missing persons report with Waterloo Regional Police.
- If your child has recently returned home after a conflict and you want support them to keep them home you can access counseling at KW Counseling Services.
- If you are struggling with your child due to their gender identity or sexuality please know that they still need your love and support. This might mean asking yourself some difficult questions around your beliefs about LGBTQ+ folks. It might mean doing your homework about what it means for someone to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. It might mean reaching out to other folks in your community who have had similar experiences. It might also mean helping your child find a safe place to live, with a trusted family member or friend.
- Please know that conversion therapy in Ontario is illegal. That means that you cannot take your child to a program that promises to make them straight, or cisgendered. There is no verified evidence that conversion therapy works and it can be very harmful.
- Please know it is not your fault. You did not make your child gay or transgender. They were born this way.
If you are an adult who is concerned about a youth in this situation here are some things to consider…
- Ask the youth if they are getting their basic needs met so they can continue to go to school or reach out to friends (Shelter, food, tampons, chest binders, etc.).
- Learn about local LGBTQ+ resources like PFLAG, SPECTRUM, Rainbow Connections or Transgender Support Group, OK2BME youth group and counselling services or Gender Journeys Group at Langs and support the young person in attending these groups.
- Ask the youth what they need.
- Help with transportation. It is really hard to get around if you are a young person so getting a ride to the Ontario Works office or to view an apartment is really helpful! Or if you have some bus tickets lying around those could be helpful too.
- Go with them! Offer to go with them. New things can be really scary. Going with someone to a housing appointment to view an apartment or to Lutherwood to get last month’s rent might make all the difference. The young person might be more likely to attend or ask the right questions if you are with them.
- If the young person is under the age of 16 you must get Family and Children’s Services involved. Click here to learn more. To learn more about local Family and Children’s Services click