by Kandace Price

Inspired by the youth who use Pink Triangle Services (PTS) and the alarming rate of youth homelessness in Canada, PTS employees and youth volunteers are working hard in creative ways to address the problems facing GLBTTQ youth in Ottawa.

PTS is a queer community centre located in the heart of Centretown. It celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. The centre’s mandate includes celebrating a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities and serving vibrant and diverse communities through support, education and advocacy.

PTS strives to empower people while encouraging their well-being and prosperity. This is evident with the recent launch of their “Let’s End GLBTTQ Youth Homelessness in Ottawa” campaign, which aims to raise $50,000 through crowdfunding and other initiatives to improve food security for GLBTTQ youth in Ottawa.

Kayla Miller is a former client-turned-volunteer-turned current employee of PTS who is dedicated to seeing this important initiative transpire. Miller was first introduced to PTS thorough Pink Triangle Youth (PTY), a peer-led discussion and support group for Queer youth aged 25 and under in Ottawa. It is the longest running group for and by queer youth in Canada.

Miller explains, “as an organization we interact with 40-50 youth each week through our PTY and CafeQ programs. Many of them are at risk of becoming homeless because of the rejection they face from their families and are unable to live as their authentic selves for fear of being kicked out.”

Statistics on youth homelessness in Canada are alarming. According to Dr. Stephen Gaetz, a disproportionately high number of homeless youth identify as Indigenous and / or identify as GLBTTQ. “More than half of the homeless youth in Canada have been to jail, youth detention centre, or prison,” he writes in his 2014 report Coming of Age. “More than 41-43 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness were in foster care or group homes. A lack of affordable housing and low incomes have led youth to stay home or return home [even when home is not the safest place] and 25-40 per cent of youth identify as LGBTQ.”

PTS’s $50,000 goal would cover expenses for the first six months of its Food Security Program. This money will pay for the youth employees and leasing a kitchen space and storage space for food. With these resources, PTS will develop a food security and catering service where youth prepare and deliver hot meals for low-income members of the GLBTTQ community, with specific priority placed on the needs of queer seniors.

When asked why PTS has chosen to focus on seniors and people with disabilities as recipients for the meal delivery, Miller emphasized the importance of keeping the program as intersectional and intergenerational as possible.

“If we’re employing youth to prepare and deliver meals we want to make sure we’re explicitly targeting people who often experience isolation, limited options for transportation and are on fixed incomes.” Miller said the program would not only aim to provide an affordable option for healthy meals but opportunities to make connections and bonds with people one would not have the opportunity to interact with otherwise.

In the long-term, Miller explains that the hope is to give youth an opportunity to increase their autonomy and independence, develop their skills and offer training in not only cooking but other areas of interest, career or educational goals. The program is designed as a stepping-stone for the youth being employed in the program to achieve their greater aspirations. “We will do this by giving them purposeful work at a living wage and connecting them with resources to make sure they are adequately housed,” said Miller. “When you are able to have your basic needs met it is a lot easier to focus on what you want in the future.”

The organization is also looking to expand the project, and thus connect with other youth and senior-oriented organizations. Once funding has been secured, a youth advisory board and a volunteer assessment team will then be tasked with maintaining connections with program clients to evaluate the program and its work.

This article first appeared in the Leveller, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2014).