HOMELESSNESS IN-DEPTH SPECIAL
By SAM DICKFOS
Twenty-two years ago, a Sunday school teacher finished work, came home, and walked in on her 14-year-old daughter in a compromising position with another person.
It’s an awkward moment that has happened to countless parents and their children, but this daughter, Amanda, was with another girl. The complications are further layered: this was in the 1990s and the mother was strictly religious. The whole scene before her was the antithesis of her beliefs.
Amanda’s mother assaulted and then kicked her daughter out of her home.
For the next month Amanda slept under a bridge in Cooroy while still attending school. When a teacher realised Amanda was homeless, she connected her to a Noosa service that provided housing for homeless youth.
Today, Amanda is a proud transgender man called Shane*.
While awareness of gender identity issues and the sexuality spectrum has improved, LGBTIQ+ homelessness remains a real problem. The LGBTQ Homelessness Research Project recently found LGBTIQ+ youth are at least twice as likely to experience homelessness compared to heterosexual youth.
“The young people get kicked out of home because their parents don’t agree with their lifestyle choice and they see it as a choice,” Shane says. “Or, even when the parents are very accepting and loving, school’s a nightmare and that can push young people to the brink where they can’t handle being in the town.”
Sunshine Coast Pride Network Chair Marjorie Blowers says young LGBTQI+ people still experience discrimination on an alarming scale today.
“Discrimination and harassment are a huge cause for homelessness in our community,” Blowers says.
A lot of LGBTQI+ youth learn to fend for themselves. “I was my own parent for a long time,” Shane says.
Shane’s 20s saw him experience different facets of homelessness: sleeping rough on the streets, couch surfing, boarding houses. “It was a nightmare. The amount of times my stuff got stolen or I’d go back to where I was sleeping, and security had thrown my stuff in the bin. Sleeping in the rain is not a pleasant experience,” he says.
On top of this Shane was struggling with gender identity issues.
“For a lot of it I dressed as a male, I acted as a male because it was safer than being a young female on the streets – that’s a whole other level of abuse waiting to happen. I’ve been bashed more times than I can count,” Shane says.
It wasn’t until Shane was in his 30s he realised presenting as a male was not just a security blanket, but who he was as a person.
“Back then there wasn’t any transgender awareness,” he says. “I knew males could go the other way. I didn’t realise it worked both ways. I was stuck in my head, I had no one to talk to about it.”
Being homeless and struggling with his gender identity was a toxic mix for Shane. He turned to drugs and was charged with multiple drug and vagrancy offences. His sentence included attending a rehabilitation facility for three years before going on probation. The rehab program required him to reconnect with his mother before allowing him to leave. His mother resisted. Eventually, his grandmother was the one who convinced her to relent.
Bridges can be crossed and Shane says he doesn’t place any blame on his mother today. They currently live together.
After finishing rehab Shane got a job, and lived in a halfway house learning how to reintegrate into society. But Shane couldn’t cope and attempted suicide multiple times and caused himself permanent injury.
“I went back to behaviour that was comfortable. Failure became comfortable. I didn’t know how to deal with success,” he says.
Shane came into contact with youth workers who he says changed his life and broke the cycle.
“[The difference was] having people who didn’t just see me as an issue, they saw me as a person. Even when I didn’t see much in myself, they did. I still speak to most of them once or twice a year to thank them,” he says.
Shane is thankful he survived and wants to be a voice of change. He hopes to finish his diploma in youth work soon. “I want to give back to the sector that gave me back my life,” he says.
Shane wants the Sunshine Coast to have LGBTQI+ services for homeless youth.
“We need services run by LGBTQI for LGBTQI that have actually experienced homelessness and the plethora of issues that go with it,” he says.
Shane says LGBTQI+ people experiencing homelessness needed to know that it can get better.
“Find people who understand. Keep your head up. Hang in there.
“I’ll hang in there too. I know it’s worth it.”
*Shane has requested anonymity
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467