Gay, lesbian youth too often end up on streets

Startling numbers suggest a third of the homeless young people in Edmonton are gay or lesbian.

A University of Alberta study found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population.

The study estimates 25 to 40 per cent of homeless youth identify themselves as lesbian or gay. In the general population that number is only five to 10 per cent.

"I came out as bisexual and my parents were just unable to handle it," said Nikki Webb, 25. "That's how I ended up homeless."

Webb left home at 15 and became addicted to drugs while sleeping on the street.

Webb's story is typical of how gay and lesbian youth end up on the street, said Kristopher Wells, with the University of Alberta's Institute for sexual minority studies and services.

"If your family doesn't support you and then you go to your school, and you find your school to be a hostile place because of your indentity, then what's left?" he said. "Too often it's the streets."

The study said despite the alarming numbers, there are no emergency shelters for lesbian or gay youth in Canada.

Wells hopes a new counselling program funded by the Alberta government, United Way, and the City of Edmonton will help parents who struggle with their children's sexual orientation.

"My message to parents is very simple," he said. "You either love your child for who they are or you will lose your child because you will lose them to isolation or alienation.

"If home's not safe then they're going to be on the streets or sadly you'll lose your child to suicide."

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