How you can help LGBT youth find a job and a home
By Colin Druhan
Homelessness and unemployment: these two issues feed off each other, and together they keep people from reaching their full potential. Finding and keeping a job can be tough for many young people, particularly those who identify as LGBT. Youth unemployment in Canada is at double the overall rate, and LGBT youth face very specific barriers to landing paid work. “In an already competitive job market, they’re competing with adults who have work history and life experience,” explains Tyler Morden, coordinator of LGBTQ Youth Housing Support Services at The 519 in Toronto. “And often, because of awkward, abusive or broken relationships with family, they are unable to access their parents’ networks and connections in order to secure their first job.” Without an income, of course, it’s difficult for LGBT youth to find a home to call their own.
And the problem goes both ways. Many LGBT youth who are homeless lack resources such as clothes to wear to interviews, inconsistent access to a phone, limited access to the internet, and an inability to afford reliable transportation, making it next to impossible for them to participate in the hiring process. Of the more than 150,000 homeless youth in Canada, it’s estimated that between 25 per cent and 40 per cent identify as LGBT.
Facilities such as the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s Sprott House, a 25-bed transitional housing program for LGBT homeless youth, are doing great work to meet a small part of the community’s need. Kate Miller, director of Sprott House, says the program provides a stable environment where youth can
connect with others, which “builds up the confidence of LGBT youth as they meet more people like them.” But more support is needed.
When it comes to making a difference, there are a number of options for Canadian employers and members of Canada’s LGBT community who want to help.
Advocate for more inclusive hiring practices
A lot of employers talk about embracing diversity, but we need more than just talk. Staff members who are responsible for recruitment and hiring need to understand the specific challenges faced by LGBT youth, and take steps to bring down existing barriers. The 519 has great resources about these barriers (available at the519.org), and Pride at Work Canada has tools to help businesses of any size recognize their potential to become more inclusive (prideatwork.ca).
Engage the community on what the issues really are
Employers that want to take steps to make application forms, hiring processes and job fairs more accessible shouldn’t make assumptions about what needs to change. They need to talk to people who are working directly with LGBT youth to get direct feedback and recommendations. When planning events that engage the public, for example, Miller recommends asking questions like, “Is there a way we can open up spots for queer and trans youth to be part of this?”
Become a mentor
The best way for LGBT professionals to leverage their skills and experience to help youth one-on-one is through an established mentorship program. Some programs may require mentors to go through some preliminary training to make sure they are effective in their role. The matching process can sometimes be lengthy, but finding the right fit is key to a successful mentorship relationship.
Volunteer in a meaningful way
If your schedule doesn’t allow you the time to mentor someone, find an organization that’s making a difference and ask how you can help. Remember that the best volunteers don’t come to the table with a specific task or position in mind. Be clear about what your skills are and trust that the organization you’ve chosen will find a way for you to make an impact, even if it’s not working directly with clients.
Put your money where your mouth is
Those doing the tough work to make a difference in the lives of others can always use more financial resources. If your budget allows it, try to make regular contributions of any size to a charitable organization you trust. You can support the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s Sprott House by donating at ymcagta.org, and contribute to the development The 519’s programs and services at the519.org.
COLIN DRUHAN is the executive director of Pride at Work Canada, a not-for-profit organization that empowers employees to foster workplace cultures that recognize LGBT employees. For more information, visit prideatwork.ca.