The release of a new federal government-sponsored report has highlighted the problems facing homeless gay and lesbian youth.

The report entitled Closets In SAAP (Supported Accommodation Assistance Program) released last week claims WA youth are at grave risk of becoming homeless as a result of their sexuality. The report was also critical of inadequate support services for GLBT youth.

Sponsored by the commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services, the report focused on the activities of Perth Inner City Youth Services (PICYS) and claimed SAAP case workers were incapable of dealing with issues faced by GLBT youth due to lack of training.

PICYS manager Kerstin Stender told the Star intimidation, threats and abuse were common experiences of GLBT homeless youth.

Out of the report we found gay and lesbian youth were harassed by other residents and SAAP workers weren’t able to cope with them and couldn’t offer them any support or identify with them, Stender said.

Sally Abrahams, executive officer of Twenty10 Youth Services, a NSW-based non-profit organisation dedicated to providing long-term housing, advocacy and outreach to homeless GLBT youth, told the Star the situation in NSW is similar.

Most of the GLBT youth that come to Twenty10 say they’ve experienced discrimination. For example, a lot of services will assume that you’re straight and therefore a lot of issues aren’t brought up which results in GLBT youth not accessing

the services because they think they’re designed for straight people, Abrahams said.

Abrahams told the Star Twenty10 provides training for support workers across NSW through a program called Ready Or Not which enables SAAP workers to be GLBT-friendly and deal with issues unique to GLBT youth. Twenty10’s service is the only program of its kind in the country.

PICYS manager Stender said that government services at present do not even acknowledge homelessness amongst gay and lesbian youth as a problem.

There are no services in WA and currently SAAP questionnaires don’t even ask about sexuality or gender, so the government doesn’t have any data on gay and lesbian homelessness and because they don’t have any statistics they don’t really know what to do about it, or if a problem exists, Stender told the Star.

But Twenty10’s Sally Abrahams said there has been sufficient research published on GLBT homelessness.

We actually did a report with the University of Sydney in 1995 which estimated that there are 5,000 homeless GLBT youth in Australia and that one in four young homeless people identify with same-sex attraction. Also a La Trobe University study suggested GLBT youth are six times more likely to become homeless than heterosexual youth.

The Closets In SAAP report indicates GLBT youth are at risk of homelessness because of their sexuality and other factors such as family breakdown, sexual abuse or family and domestic violence.

Abrahams echoed the report’s findings, saying Sydney GLBT youth face many dilemmas as a result of homelessness.

A lot of people that come to Twenty10 have left home at an early age, without finishing school, without access to work, escaping a difficult situation at home, and arrive in Sydney and think that everything is going to be great. Without qualifications it’s very hard to get a job. If you haven’t got family or any support network here then the only way to make money can be sex work. Drugs is often a solution to sex work. We often find that most young people who haven’t experienced hard drugs before will do so as a means of escaping the pain that sex work can cause, Abrahams said.

According to Abrahams, one of the problems faced by Twenty10 and other youth organisations is the widespread perception, promoted through the pink dollar myth, that all gay men and lesbians are financially well off.

People say -˜no, you don’t have homeless people’, so it’s such a difficult perception to combat. We’ve sold the world so heavily on this pink dollar concept that we don’t believe that there are a lot of young queer people who need support, Abrahams said.

The WA report recommended establishing support services in the state tailored to the needs of GLBT youth as well as providing training programs for SAAP workers to enable them to adequately deal with issues relating to sexuality.

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