Empowerment during Pride: helping queer youth build a better future

The week leading up to BC Day is officially Pride Week in Vancouver, and for thousands of people within the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a time for celebration. However, instead of participating in the Pride Parade and connecting with support networks, many queer youths will be seeking out basic resources and support services during this time.

Claire Ens has been the Team Leader at the FSGV-run Directions Youth Safehouse for nearly a year, and in this time she has seen firsthand the unique challenges that queer youth face on a daily basis.

The Safehouse is welcome to anyone between the ages of 16 and 18, but Ens says that a significant number of youth who use the non-judgmental, confidential emergency safehouse identify as queer.

Homelessness is the tip of the iceberg

Despite the social inclusion efforts that have been made in recent years, many queer youths face isolation and abuse from family members because of their identity. In many cases, this means coming out could put them in danger or on the streets. Although there are no concrete statistics on how many of Canada’s homeless youth identify somewhere on the queer spectrum, Ens says that homelessness and poverty are just the tip of the iceberg.

Egale, a Canadian LGBTQ+ rights group, claims that queer youth who are rejected from their households are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. The Canadian Mental Health Association also reports that the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular, experience high rates of discrimination that affect their ability to access medicine, education, and employment opportunities.

With these barriers in mind, Directions Youth Services is committed to non-judgmental, compassionate practice that fosters positive connections between staff and youth. Ens says that having queer representation within the Safehouse’s staff has been especially helpful in opening dialogue and making youth feel more welcome during their stay.

“Relationship building is essential to providing high quality and accurate support to youth in the ways that they need,” says Ens. “Seeing other queer folks in these positions role-modeling positive and healthy behaviour is often a great stepping stone for youth to find the courage and ability to be themselves.”

The Safehouse also focuses on addressing intersectionality and understanding that queer youth may also face structural barriers as a consequence of their race, physical and mental health, socioeconomic class, immigration status, and other factors.

Success stories at the Safehouse

Although the lack of support from loved ones can have devastating consequences, through the diverse services that Directions offers, young people are still able to reach their goals and build a better future for themselves.

Without breaching confidentiality, Ens shared the story of a trans youth who recently stayed at the Safehouse. When he had first arrived at the Safehouse, he was dealing with a family who did not support his transition, and a social worker who struggled to understand why he felt unable to return home.

After advocating for himself, the Ministry of Children and Family Development allowed him to stay at the Safehouse, where he received support from staff who affirmed his identity and listened to his lived experiences.

Today, he has returned to high school and is now preparing to move into a trans-friendly foster placement. The Safehouse staff is working with him to build resilience and develop self-care strategies that will help him throughout the rest of his transition.

It’s a small example, but a powerful reminder that with the right support system, queer youth can live the life they deserve—one filled with empowerment, positivity, and pride.

Run by Family Services of Greater Vancouver, Directions Youth Services is a collection of services supporting youth who are at-risk, street-involved or experiencing homelessness. These include a 24/7 drop-in centre, outreach teams, pre-employment programs, two safehouses, and a youth detox centre.