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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

New training program and film tackle LGBTQ youth homelessness

Toronto, October 5, 2016 - In September, CAMH Scientist Dr. Alex Abramovich and collaborators unveiled Toronto’s first mandatory training program for shelters to better meet the needs of LGBTQ homeless youth. The new program aims to stop the violence and discrimination that many LGBTQ youth experience in shelters, which frequently lack staff training and other supports to assist LGBTQ youth.

“Until we end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and ensure safe, welcoming and inclusive environments in all support programs, the fight to create authentic spaces for LGBTQ2S homeless youth will be far from over,” said Dr. Abramovich of CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at the event.

Called Fostering an Inclusive Shelter Environment for LGBTQ2S Youth, the training curriculum was developed by Dr. Abramovich and The 519, who worked in collaboration with the Toronto Hostels Training Centre and A Way Home, a national coalition dedicated to preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness in Canada. The initiative was supported by the TD Bank and the City of Toronto.

In addition to developing the mandatory training curriculum for shelter staff, the team created 11 informational graphics on topics such as LGBTQ youth homelessness statistics, suicide, family conflict and barriers to employment. The infographics are available to the public to share and raise awareness.

Dr. Alex AbramovichDr. Alex Abramovich of CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research introduced Toronto’s first-ever mandatory training curriculum for shelters to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth.

Dr. Abramovich also premiered his film Nowhere To Go: A Brokered Dialogue, a 30-minute research-based film highlighting the challenges faced by LGBTQ homeless youth struggling with mental health issues. To create the film, Dr. Abramovich used a qualitative, participatory research method called Brokered Dialogue, which uses film to help promote respectful dialogue among individuals who have different perspectives on a contentious health or social issue and who would not normally engage with one another.

The film features three LGBTQ youth with lived experience of homelessness and mental health challenges, the City of Toronto's General Manager of Shelter Operations, Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and a child and youth psychiatrist. Solutions to bring change become evident as the six participants share their experiences, perceptions and recommendations with each other in a conversation conducted entirely through one-on-one interviews with Dr. Abramovich. The participants never met in person, but shared film clips back and forth to help facilitate meaningful exchange on this issue.

Introducing the film, Dr. Abramovich stated: “The film demonstrates the ways that mental health services and shelter services currently operate as two separate entities. This project highlights the need for a more integrated approach to youth homelessness where mental health supports and trauma-informed care are central to the support offered in shelters, housing programs and the services that LGBTQ youth access.” View the film trailer here.

Following the film screening, a six-person panel further explored the issues raised in the film. “Imagine being kicked out of a shelter when that’s supposed to be your shelter when you’re homeless,” said Wolf, who shared her experience during the panel discussion.

Panelists discussionPanelists explored issues facing LGBTQ homeless youth (from left): Maura Lawless, Executive Director of The 519; Karen Smith, Director of Hostel Services for the City of Toronto; Wolf, student at Humber College; Nakisha, indie filmmaker; Rainbow, activist and performer; and Dr. Alex Abramovich, who moderated the panel discussion.

“Youth are not homeless because they choose to be homeless,” said Rainbow, who also appeared in the film. “I would leave the shelter each day to be safe on the streets.”

Speaking about the lack of seamless support between shelter and mental health services, Karen Smith, Director of Hostel Services for the City of Toronto, said, “It’s evident that the gaps in our services have real impacts on LGBTQ homeless youth."


Panel participants 
Panel participants (from left): Rainbow, Dr. Alex Abramovich, Nakisha and Wolf.


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