Methods: Qualitative grounded research explores the compounded effect of COVID-19 on marginalized homeless youth. Research conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 16 precariously housed youth (aged 16-28), identifying as being part of a marginalized community(ies), 11 frontline housing/homelessness workers, including shelter/drop-in workers and street outreach workers, and 9 service delivery managers, including executive directors, managers and program directors. Participants were in Ontario and interviewed via Zoom. Recruitment occurred through posted flyers, social media, and emailing agencies. The study asks: What challenges do marginalized homeless youth face during the pandemic in terms of housing, mental health, substance use and other services; what are their experiences in regard to bullying, social exclusion, policing, and access to appropriate services, and; what should our responses to marginalized youth homelessness look like in a post-pandemic context. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using NVivo software.
Findings: Grounded in participant voice, findings reveal what works/does not work for youth as well as identifies agencies’ learnings and highlights key policy/program recommendations. Participants report social distancing requirements, causing a shift to private rooms, was significant to the health and wellbeing of marginalized youth and increased safety. Findings highlight identity specific services provide safer spaces and describe the erasure of identity in systems; program providers acknowledge the lack of systematic identity specific data collection and cannot report a comprehensive/intersectional demographic profile. Service providers note the increased community support for their work and the value this brings.
Conclusion and Implications: This study calls for social work to engage with structural issues facing historically excluded communities in ways that are intersectional and complex. Learnings from hidden injustices unmasked during Covid-19 can offer the opportunity to provide insight toward unravelling the historical disparities of colonization, racism and anti-Black racism, homophobia, ableism and heteropatriarchy and provide social work practice with requisite tactics and strategies for transformational practice with marginalized communities. The benefit of this study includes providing a platform for homeless youth to have their voices and experiences heard and generating data to inform policymakers and service delivery managers regarding what works for marginalized homeless youth and what does not work within programs and policy.