Gender and sex issues among youth homeless

Thursday, 29 August 2013

University of Adelaide researchers have authored a new report that raises awareness of the need for extra support for young homeless people who are gay, lesbian or transgender.

The report calls for improved training of teaching, health and social workers, and for improved services and accommodation to cater more specifically for the range of young people's needs.

The lead author is Associate Professor Susan Oakley, Head of Gender Studies and Social Analysis at the University of Adelaide and a member of the Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning (CHURP). Associate Professor Oakley has been researching youth homelessness for the past 10 years.

"Youth homelessness is a major problem, but the situation becomes even more complex when the homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or questioning their gender," Associate Professor Oakley says.

"Until now there has been very little research conducted into this issue in Australia. This is the first time a report has been published that looks at the scope of gender and sexuality as they relate to youth homelessness in two cities - Adelaide and Sydney."

Associate Professor Oakley says young people who are same sex attracted or transgender often experience homophobia, bullying and harassment. "This can be compounded because of their homelessness," she says.

"Young people typically become homeless because of problems such as family breakdowns, mental health, substance abuse and lack of employment, which already puts them at increased risk. To experience additional bullying, harassment or exploitation on top of that because of their gender or sexuality places this group in a very precarious situation."

Associate Professor Oakley says more coordinated and integrated support services are needed, as well as training. "The young homeless people we interviewed spoke very highly of service providers, but they also identified a range of problems, including a lack of understanding about their circumstances. In the report, we call for core training in these issues for social workers and GPs, teachers and others who are at the forefront of dealing with youth homelessness," she says.

"There is also a lack of safe housing for these youth. Some boarding houses are so unsafe that it can be better for young people to 'couch surf'. What's really needed is improved accommodation - not just short or medium-term emergency accommodation - that will give young people time to transition out of homelessness."

This research has been funded by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The full report can be found at the Australian Homelessness Clearinghouse website.


Contact Details

Associate Professor Susan Oakley
Head, Gender Studies and Social Analysis
School of Social Sciences
The University of Adelaide
Business: 08 8313 3352

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762