Homelessness Among Sexual and Gender Minorities

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    • 00:00


    • 00:10

      SPEAKER: Hi, Jama.Thanks so much for joining us today.Could you tell us a little bit about yourselfand your background in social work?

    • 00:16

      JAMA SHELTON: Yes.Thanks for having me today.So my name is Jama Shelton.And I use the pronouns they and them.I'm an assistant professor at the Silberman Schoolof Social Work at Hunter College in New York City, whereI teach community organizing.I have been a social worker since 2004.And what led me to social work--

    • 00:37

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: I actually have a background in arts--in the arts.And I was working in Texas with a group of LGBT young peopleon a residency project where they were creatingvideos and performance pieces about themselves,like autobiographical work.And throughout that process, inevitably, young people

    • 00:59

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: would start to disclose traumatic things thathad happened to them, mostly related to their identity.And I had no idea what to do with it.And so I felt really irresponsible to keepdoing that kind of work and then to notbe able to support them in that process.So I decided to go learn more about what to do.And so I went to get an MSW.

    • 01:19

      SPEAKER: Nice.That's amazing.Thank you for sharing.Can you tell us a little bit about your research?

    • 01:24

      JAMA SHELTON: Yeah.My research focuses on the experiencesof LGBTQ young people who are homelessor who have experienced homelessness.In particular, I focus on transgender, gender-expansive,and non-binary young people and their experiences with housinginstability, and homelessness, and their experiences

    • 01:46

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: navigating youth homelessness systems.

    • 01:48

      SPEAKER: Mm-hmm.So what were your research questionsas you were investigating this?

    • 01:52

      JAMA SHELTON: So I originally started this workas part of my dissertation, although my direct practicework had been with LGBTQ young people experiencinghomelessness for nine years.That's the work that I did in housing programs.So my research was informed by that work.And I had noticed, in my practice,

    • 02:14

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: that the transgender young people were notprogressing in the same way that the cisgender, LGB young peoplewere progressing through the programs.And it's not that they couldn't do the same things.They're extraordinarily capable.But there were-- I just noticed that therewere additional barriers to their success in the programs.

    • 02:38

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: So for example, the place I workedhad a continuum of street outreach,crisis shelter, long-term transitional living programs.And the trans young people weren't making it to the TLPs,to the Transitional Living Programs,which was the final step in the continuum.So I was really curious about what their experiences were

    • 02:60

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: and why they weren't making it there.So my initial study was really very open-ended,looking at the experiences of transgenderand gender-expansive youth who were experiencing homelessness,super open-ended qualitative project because there wasn'ta lot out there at that time.

    • 03:21

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: This was in 2010-ish, not a lot out thereat that time about this particular populationand their experiences.And everything that was out there at the timewas primarily through a lens of risk and pathology.So if one were to look at the literature,you might walk away thinking, oh,

    • 03:42

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: transgender young people are going to be exposed to HIV.They're going to be engaged in sex work.They're going to die.There was nothing other than these risk-based outcomesassociated with their experiences.

    • 04:01

      SPEAKER: So then you had mentionedit was a qualitative study.What methods did you use, specifically?

    • 04:05

      JAMA SHELTON: Yeah, so it was a qualitative studyof phenomenological design, again,because really there was little out there.And so the purpose was to, in a very exploratory manner,understand their experiences.So I conducted semi-structured interviews.And the part that I think is the most exciting

    • 04:27

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: is that I accompanied that with a visual method of mapping,which has its roots in social psychology.And it, essentially, is providing young peoplewith some art supplies.And I asked them to map their journeyfrom the time they left home to right now,when we were meeting.And that was the only instruction, which

    • 04:49

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: I can talk much more about.But the reason I did that is because we privilegelanguage and the spoken word in a lot of the work that we do.And when you're working with a population that'shighly stigmatized, and highly marginalized,pathologized, they may be hesitant and afraid to share

    • 05:11

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: their truth.That's one reason.The other reason is a lot of young peoplemay not actually have the languageto describe what they're experiencing.And so an arts-based method just opens a different pathwayin the brain to allow them to express something differently.And then the third reason is because for trans young people

    • 05:33

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: who are accessing transition-related care,there had been, and maybe there stillis, this script that young people learn that, in orderto get this thing, I know that this needsto have been my experience.So there's this social script that's importantbecause it enables them to gain access

    • 05:55

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: to supports and resources.But I didn't--I wasn't interested in just the social script.I wanted to know actually, for real,what their experiences were.And so the hope was that through this activity,and through the opening of creative thinking,and another way of communication that we'dbe less likely to just talk about that script.

    • 06:17

      SPEAKER: So what were some of the thingsthat you saw within this visual medium.

    • 06:22

      JAMA SHELTON: Well, first of all,there were some astonishingly beautiful images.And so I did that at the end of the interview.And I think that--I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had done itat the beginning.But I also think we had developed a relationship.And so it made them more likely to actually engage in it.So some of the things that I saw were--

    • 06:44

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: there had been a story that we had discussed.And then with the map, when I would ask them to explain itto me, there were things that we had notdiscussed that were a part of their storyand a really important part of their storythat either hadn't come up in the waythat I had asked questions, or that they hadn'tbeen comfortable at the time, or that they hadn't thought of.

    • 07:04

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: So it uncovered lots of new information,sometimes building on the interview,sometimes contradicting the interview.The other thing that was really fascinatingis I didn't specify what home meant.And I didn't specify what the journey meant.And so some young people created this map that was literally

    • 07:28

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: about the physical places they had stayed,since they left their home.And so it was really focused on I went to the shelter.Then I was sleeping on this park bench.And then I did this.So it was place-based.And other young people mapped a gender process.

    • 07:44

      SPEAKER: Interesting.

    • 07:46

      JAMA SHELTON: --which, to me, communicatesthat that piece was what was the most salient for them,when they think about this period of timewhere they had not been housed.That what they were doing in terms of discovering or beingable to express who they are was,at the front of their mind, was the most important thing.And then some did both, which was also

    • 08:08

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: really cool to see where their housing pathway intersectedwith their gender journey.

    • 08:17

      SPEAKER: Wow.That's incredible to have both the responsesto your interviews with them, and thenalso to see these different journeys through in their eyesor through the art.So then once you've compiled all of your data,how did you then-- what did you then find?What were the trends?

    • 08:38

      JAMA SHELTON: So there were a couple of key thingsthat stand out.I mean, it was really rich, as you can imagine,the depth of their experiences.And there were some places where the information wasthe same across participants, and somethat varied really widely.

    • 09:01

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: One stark finding that stands outwas that a full third, so there were 27 participants,so 9 of the 27 participants said, very clearly,if I had not left my home, I would havekilled myself, period, right?And then there were others who would say, I would be dead.But it wouldn't have been like, I would have killed myself.

    • 09:22

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: It would have been for other reasons.

    • 09:24

      SPEAKER: Like a survival thing?

    • 09:24

      JAMA SHELTON: But they thought they would have been dead.Yeah.So that really stood out to me.And for those participants, it was like,they couldn't be who they were in their home.And it was so important for them to live truly, truthfully,and authentically that they either "chose"--

    • 09:45

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: I do that in air quotes because it's the Sophie's choicekind of situation, right--left or they were kicked out, right?And even the young people who were kicked out were like,it really sucked.But I'm glad it happened because I wouldn'tbe who I am now, right?So that was one thing that really stood out to me.Another was that there--

    • 10:08

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: we know a lot about the risks associated with housinginstability and homelessness.And those were true.It was a terrible experience for everyone across all the domainsthat people report that it's terrible.And also because the study wasn't focused on risk,and it was really open-ended, what came outwas that there were also ways that that experience--

    • 10:30

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: the young people experienced their period of homelessnessas helpful to them in many ways, in relation to their gender,but also being connected to community,developing skills, and strengths that theythought would enable them to be successful in their lives.So that there were all of these positive, even,

    • 10:54

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: aspects of their experience that they shared.And that's super important because, as social workers,we emphasize coming from a strengths-based lens.And so the fact that we didn't really know this part,so that would mean we wouldn't knowhow to support their strengths and the developmentof their strengths, right?

    • 11:14

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: So that was another one.And then I think the third that I would highlightis that there were structural barriers to their successin programs, right?So that initial wondering I had about--why are trans youth not making itthrough the whole continuum of this program?There were a number of structural barriers

    • 11:35

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: that they talked about.That would be, for example, if therewas a program that required being in schoolor working as you have to do thatto get into the program, that was often a barrier,not because, again, not because transgender people couldn't dothat, but because they often didn'thave things like identification that matched their gender.

    • 11:59

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: So to send a young person out into the worldto get a job with identification that doesn't match their genderis actually putting them at risk.So young people maybe wouldn't do that.Plus there are not federal nondiscrimination protectionsfor trans people in the workplace or any other--like, public accommodation, right?So depending on where a young person is geographically,

    • 12:22

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: they would be terrified and could get fired, right?So that's an example of these structural barriersthat when we think about designing programs, again,we shouldn't be thinking that trans youth can'tdo these things.But we need to build in these other stepsthat we don't have to think aboutfor cisgender young people, like the process of changingyour identification, and how are you

    • 12:43

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: going to get money to do that.And in terms of meeting basic needs,that basic needs for trans young peoplemight also include access to gender-affirming clothingand other things that we might not think aboutfor cisgender young people.

    • 12:57

      SPEAKER: Mm-hmm.Fantastic.And what can we do as social workers?Or what takeaways can we pull from this research?

    • 13:07

      JAMA SHELTON: Yeah.So I would say, I think there-- if I distill it down to two,I think.So one of them would be, we need to expand the way that we lookat the experiences of all young peopleexperiencing homelessness and trans young people experiencinghomelessness.That understanding the risk is really important,

    • 13:28

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: and I think we do understand the risk as a profession.And reducing risk is important.And at the same time, we need to understand the waythat young people utilize strengths and resilienceto survive because especially for a group that'sas marginalized as trans young people,as marginalized as trans young people of color,that the fact that they're surviving day to day

    • 13:49

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: is indicative of extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness.And so we have to be able to also look at that side of itand figure out how to support that,in addition to reducing risk.So that's one.And then the second is really aboutthese structural barriers.And that our systems, and institutions, and programswere not created with transgender,

    • 14:12

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: gender-expansive, non-binary young people in mind whenthey were created.And so that means that there will be inherent challengesand barriers within these systems, programs,and institutions.And so when we think about our interventions,we need, as a profession, we need to think broaderthan what happens on the interpersonal level, which

    • 14:35

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: is important.Like, those kinds of trainings around,like, here's the right language to use.And here's the thing that you don't say.All that's really important.And if we don't address the ideological and institutionallayers that contribute to the oppression and marginalizationof trans youth, then we're just goingto keep spinning our wheels in the interpersonal piece, right?

    • 14:56

      JAMA SHELTON [continued]: So we have to expand it and do the macro and micro approach.

    • 15:02

      SPEAKER: Excellent.Thank you so much for sharing your insightsand your research.I really appreciate it.

    • 15:06


Homelessness Among Sexual and Gender Minorities

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Jama Shelton, PhD, assistant professor, Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, discusses homelessness among sexual and gender minorities.

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Homelessness Among Sexual and Gender Minorities

Jama Shelton, PhD, assistant professor, Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, discusses homelessness among sexual and gender minorities.

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