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Identity: Working with 2sLGBTQI+ Youth Experiencing Homelessness in Canada

brendan-halamaBrendan Halama 

MaCYC Student/ Intern for Youth Week and Rainbow Ready | Ara Taiohi 

 “There was something in the air that night, that shone so bright”- ABBA. Many of the times I think things are going wrong in the world, there are reminders of why I keep going.

My pride comes from my passion. It is the passion to provide meaningful moments through programming and youth engagement that keeps me motivated. The concept of providing programming to youth is something that stems from the developmental strategies of many agencies worldwide. It is essential these programs remain individualized as they offer a unique practice on working with youth.

I have run programming in both community and residential settings, thus far in my career. The more recent example of this, at a shelter for youth experiencing homelessness, the 2sLGBTQI+ group that runs bi-weekly. Surprisingly at this point, it is the only 2sLGBTQI+ group that takes place in a youth shelter in all of Toronto’s youth shelter network.

As significant as the challenges that can be faced while running a community-based program such as this, it is met with enthusiastic joy from the participants. It speaks to the importance of individualizing practice and how its successes are reflected. It is, in my opinion, that programs such as this should value the use of allies to integrate the queer ideas in the heteronormative society. This is what builds tolerance and understanding.

It was a cold and starry night when myself and a colleague were walking with six young people in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The weather was well below the freezing point, and there was snow piled up everywhere. It was the middle of February, after all.

The small group of us were there together for a specific reason. We had gathered the youth on a weekend trip into the country to go through several workshops on “healing through trauma through spirituality.” This specific group were specially chosen, as they all belonged to the 2sLGBTQI+ community. It just so happened to work out that all of the young people were refugee claimants from various African and Caribbean countries.

One of the young people turned to me as we were walking and asked if we could stop for a second. We slowed down and stopped allowing the group to go ahead. They looked over at me and said; “I just wanted you to know that I am having the most amazing weekend and thank you for bringing me. I have never been able to be myself in my life, and now I can breathe comfortably knowing it’s ok to be gay”. The youth leapt at me and gave me a big hug. I had the hardest time not becoming emotional at that moment.  The young person then began pouring out quite candidly many of his experiences in the shelter system, and how they could be challenging.

From this point on the meaning of life-space and self, changed forever for me. Who are we when we are in front of young people, and does that shift from a personal perspective to a professional standpoint? How does the life-space change when we leave the residential environment and carry it into the community? It is only with reflection and journey into self that we, as practitioners, can move forward, building stronger communities in the future.

 

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/