"Queer, young and homeless"

Bob Cunningham: Tonight we've got lasagne, a vegetarian korma, steamed rice, and salads.

David Lewis: Which of those do you expect to be the most popular?

Bob Cunningham: The lasagne by a mile!

David Lewis: It's almost dinner time, and staff at this cafe in Brisbane still have a lot to do.

There are veggies to chop, sauces to simmer and tables to set. Hospitality can be a fickle business but this place has never been short of customers.

So, Bob, where are we?

Bob Cunningham: We're in the basement of City Hall, in the middle of the city, 64 Adelaide St. It's the Red Cross Night Cafe. It's been operating from this location most of the time in the 14 and half years it's been going.

David Lewis: And what is the Red Cross Night Cafe?

Bob Cunningham: Essentially it's a service built around the express needs of young people who said, 'We need a safe place to go for a free hot meal at night.'

David Lewis: The cafe opens twice a week and provides up to 90 meals a night for about 60 homeless kids. Bob Cunningham has been working here for more than a decade.

Bob Cunningham: You can come here if you're sleeping rough in the parks or under bridges. You can come here if you're couch-surfing and you don't have a definite play to stay, which is a lot of the young people, that's probably the majority of them.

David Lewis: 20-year-old Marshall fits exactly that description. He's a regular here at the Red Cross Night Cafe.

Marshall: I've been on and off homeless since 2012 but just recently I got kicked out two weeks before Christmas and I've just been sleeping [on] park benches, stairwells, I've slept in the Myer Centre, little catacomb thingies, emergency exits, I've slept at my Flexi School that I used to go to, and just couch-surfing and also sleeping at random people's places.

David Lewis: Is it hard to find a place to sleep?

Marshall: Yeah, definitely. When you do find a warm place, someone will come up to you and belittle you. I remember I was sleeping outside of the Myer Centre just up a bit and this group of students who were out on a night were throwing food at me and saying I should just get a job.

David Lewis: According to the last Census, more than 100,000 Australians are homeless. About a third of them are under the age of 25. As a general rule, the younger you are when you become homeless, the harder it is to break the cycle. And the journey can be especially tough for kids who identify as LGBTI or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex. Kids like Marshall.

Did you ever think this would happen to you?

Marshall: No, never. Never thought it would. But it did. And it sucks. It sucks that I'm here and I know I can't change it.

David Lewis: Crisis accommodation providers say queer kids are knocking on their doors in disproportionate numbers. Studies in the UK and the US have found between 20% and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTI. Here in Australia, nobody's keeping count. But across the country, young LGBTI people are either being thrown out of home, or are choosing to leave, often due to family violence and school bullying around their sexuality and gender.

Topia: I got followed home nearly every day and threatened to be killed and stuff. It was crazy.

Josie: My stepdad tried to beat the gay out of me, I reckon. No, bitch, didn't work! You just turned me into a woman instead, you dumb-arse!

Sherri: To sit in a family mediation session and listen to a parent say 'I disown you' is a terrible thing to be a part of and to witness.

David Lewis: What makes LGBTI young people so vulnerable to homelessness and why do they remain invisible? I'm David Lewis and this is Background Briefing.

I've come to Sydney for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It's the biggest celebration of pride and diversity on the calendar. And thousands of people have lined Oxford St to wave the rainbow flag.

Where have you come from?

Vox 1: I came here from Hawaii but I'm from New York City and I always attended the parade there, it's quite an awesome experience. And I just happened to land in Kings Cross during the Mardi Gras period and I'm like, 'Wow, how exciting is that', so here I am.

Vox 2: All right, ABC Radio, what do you want to know?

David Lewis: I want to know why you're here for Mardi Gras?

Vox 2: We really support the whole gay thing. These are our two really good friends, who are lesbians. Hannah and I are both straight but we love them so much and we think it's really important that everybody should be allowed to be who they are and do what they want and why should there be any stereotypes and any prejudice? We love them so much. Let them be who they want to be.

David Lewis: Can you talk me through your outfits?

Vox 3: I'm wearing a one-piece spandex rainbow uniform with a cat bag.

David Lewis: Was it hard to get on?

Vox 3: No, not really. You just slip it on. Easy enough. And some pink Converse shoes.

David Lewis: And you've forgotten your bling.

Vox 3: Oh yeah! And a Boy George earring, of course.

David Lewis: Through the crowds I spot the person I've come here to meet, 18-year-old transgender woman Josie. She's leading a float in the parade for Twenty10, an LGBTI support group. She's certainly risen to the occasion with make-up, hair extensions, and a dress she later tells me she could scarcely afford but had to have. And she's smiling as she performs a carefully choreographed dance she's clearly spent many hours rehearsing. Mardi Gras is the one night of the year she can truly be herself but when I catch up with her the next morning, the mood in the city has already changed, and Josie, who's still wearing that dress, gets a very different reception. And a warning; strong language follows.

Josie: So the adrenaline is still going from last night so I don't care what I'm wearing but everyone's looking at me right now because they've never seen a fucking lady-boy before! Sorry, that was a bad side of my temper.

David Lewis: Do you get that a lot? Do you get weird looks?

Josie: I do, every day. I can't walk past many people without them being like, 'What are you?'

David Lewis: Josie moved to Sydney from country NSW and has been struggling to find shelter ever since.

Josie: I'm still on the streets again, but that's only because I keep getting myself kicked out of refuges.

David Lewis: And why is that, do you think?

Josie: Because I hate authority.

David Lewis: And so that leads to a bit of trouble-making?

Josie: Yes! I love causing trouble, it's my life! Come on, I'm trans. Well, this trans girl likes to cause a lot of trouble anyway.

David Lewis: When you hear Josie's story, it's no wonder she's so well-acquainted with trouble.

Josie: I think it was my sister or my mum, I can't remember, but one of them had this dress, it was floral and it was short, not really short, but it was like a little skirt kind of thing. I used to wear it around the backyard all the time.

David Lewis: What was it like growing up navigating that territory, not really knowing at that time that you would become trans?

Josie: I didn't even know they existed back then, so it was pretty, like, I can't remember exactly how I felt but I'm pretty sure I was really depressed because I didn't know a way that I could be a girl without being seen as a freak.

David Lewis: But a freak she was in the eyes of some kids at school.

Josie: So I wore dresses to school when I was in primary school. It was pretty full on. I used to get bullied a lot. It was traumatic. These kids don't realise that if they did that to somebody else, that other person could have been suicidal or depressed, even at that age. Like, come on people, stop bullying. No.

David Lewis: Josie's life in a far flung regional town eventually became unbearable. The same taunts she was subjected to in the playground were being thrown at her in the family home. And her relationship with her stepdad turned violent. And a warning; strong language follows.

Josie: He would literally come into my room and say, 'Stop listening to that girly shit,' or something like that, or, 'You fucking faggot, poo-jabber, butt-puncher, mud monkey,' all these really hurtful names. And then I'd go to the police about him hitting me and shit and they'd just ignore it.

David Lewis: How old were you?

Josie: This happened from the age of eight, until I was 15. I left home when I was 15. I'll never go back, never, never, never go back.

David Lewis: So that's seven years of violence and abuse?

Josie: Yeah, but the worst thing was that I remember is him saying that I was a mistake, that I shouldn't have been born, and just lots of hurtful shit, like he'd walk past the door and be like 'I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you're not in this house anymore.' And then one day I remember I said to him, 'You're not going to have to worry about that anymore because I'm leaving.'

Laurie Matthews: And we're coming in here to the kitchen. It's a fairly good kitchen...

David Lewis: When Josie came to Sydney, she went from refuge to refuge looking for help. She spent a bit of time here at Caretakers' Cottage, a seven-bedroom share-house for the homeless in the city's eastern suburbs.

Laurie Matthews: Josie has come from rural NSW and I think represents very well the reason why we got going in the first place. We were providing somewhere that was safe in the big city, where young people had a chance of getting employment and education and safe accommodation.

David Lewis: Laurie Matthews is the CEO.

Laurie Matthews: Josie's situation was that Josie is identifying as a young trans person who has struggled massively with coming to grips with who she is. A lot of that stems from home but also from the way Josie has been able to learn about who she is herself. She's not there yet, not by a long shot, so she's still exploring and learning who she is, and it's a painful journey in many respects because for a young trans person there are lots of obstacles. Much more than for any other person in the community.

David Lewis: Such as?

Laurie Matthews: I think that gender identity brings out a lot more hostility from general members of the community, from peers. It's dangerous in many respects, and it also has a lot more stigma attached to it, I think, than other members of the LGBTI community.

David Lewis: That stigma often means finding a job is difficult. And so Josie went looking for others ways to make money.

Josie: That's when I was sex working.

David Lewis: It was a decision that led her down a dangerous path.

Josie: When I was doing sex work, I started smoking ice because it was a time killer. Like, time flies when you're on ice. It literally flies. It goes so fast. Your adrenaline is kicking in, you're constantly moving, and you can't sit still, kind of like me right now because I've had so many sugars.

David Lewis: That's sugars in her coffee, by the way; six to be precise. Josie tells me she's since stopped using drugs. But back at Caretakers' Cottage, nothing about her story comes as a surprise to Laurie Matthews.

Laurie Matthews: I think what's typical is finding somewhere where there's some safety with peers and friends, and so the sex work and the drug use I think goes with the territory in some respects. It's an environment in which you can find some safety in numbers, where you find you are not totally isolated and alone, so it's a fairly natural environment for young people to be attracted to. There are many, many people out there who don't put themselves in those more risky situations but some do and Josie's one of those people who has been in fairly risky and dangerous situations but we know why because she's got friends and identity there.

David Lewis: Today, Josie has come to the LGBTI support service Twenty10 in Sydney's inner-city. It's the same organisation she marched for at Mardi Gras. She's speaking here to executive director Brett Paradise about getting a house through Twenty10. She was in one before but got kicked out for bad behaviour. Now Josie wants a second chance, but she'll have to clear a major hurdle first.

Josie: I'm getting that house back. You watch me. I'm going to get that fricking place back.

Brett Paradise: So what is it you need to do? We need to get through...

Josie: Three months. I think that's what Susan said. Three months of not getting kicked out of a refuge and then I have my place back.

Brett Paradise: The way I look at things, I count how long…

Josie: I lasted at each one...

Brett Paradise: Yeah, how long you last at things and you're getting better and better.

Josie: I lasted at Taldy for two months. I lasted at Don Bosco for four months. Then I got my house and then I got kicked out of my house, so now it's just like, I hate refuges, I want my house back, I hate having no freedom.

David Lewis: Twenty10 has agreed to give Josie another go. But first she'll have to prove she can handle living independently by not getting thrown out of her current refuge. So far, she hasn't blown it.

Good morning. How are you?

River: It's too early.

David Lewis: It's too early?

River: Nah, I'm good.

David Lewis: It's almost 7am and Brisbane teenager River is looking a little bleary-eyed.

Are you a bit later to rise than normal?

River: Yeah, if I have the option to.

David Lewis: River is getting ready for school.

What's first up this morning?

River: I've got biology first, then legal studies.

David Lewis: The last few years of high school are a stressful time for any student, but River has unique challenges.

River is living in a refuge for homeless kids funded by a local not-for-profit.

[Audio: Voices of other refuge residents]

River: No you're not!

Sorry, it's habit, screaming is kind of a normal thing.

David Lewis: Screaming is a normal thing?

River: Yeah, screaming just to communicate. We have people screaming random stuff.

David Lewis: When River first moved into the refuge, the noise was unsettling.

What did you expect a homeless shelter to be like?

River: I had no idea. I was just scared. And when I came here I just had two guys sitting in the living room blaring rap music, screaming stuff, and then I saw a needle on the ground that someone put there to scare me.

David Lewis: So where are heading?

River: Just the bus stop over there. It's a bit of a walk.

David Lewis: River is determined to finish school and earn a living. Their housemates make fun of that but River doesn't mind.

River: It's been the main goal to just keep studying, find a good job, be independent. That's all I've been really focussing on.

David Lewis: River's daily commute is long, it involves hours on buses and trains. The refuge is much further from school than the family home River fled.

But the inconvenience is worth it?

River: Yeah, I don't really notice it anyway, as long as I have my music.

David Lewis: Yeah, I think the worst part is when you jump on a bus and your phone battery dies and you don't have any music.

River: That's terrible. We don't talk about that.

David Lewis: River is bisexual, and doesn't identify as any particular gender, preferring the term gender fluid.

For somebody who's not aware of what that means, how would you describe it to them?

River: Say, traditionally, people refer to gender as guy and girl, but it's really a spectrum. And gender fluid people move across almost all of those genders; male, female, bi-gender, a-gender, et cetera

David Lewis: You might be wondering, what's gender fluid mean? Or bi-gender? Or a-gender? There are so many labels, all meaning different things, but to make sense of it all, you have to make a distinction between sex and gender. Sex being biology (whether your genitalia is male or female), and gender being an identity (whether you're masculine or feminine). River is essentially saying, 'Sometimes I feel more like a man. Sometimes I feel more like a woman. I'm both and I'm neither.' For that reason you won't hear me describe River using the pronoun 'she', even though River's sex is female. River prefers the pronoun 'they'.

If you're still confused, you're not alone. River says their dad seemed to struggle to grasp these concepts too. As a result, River kept their sexuality and gender identity a secret from both parents. And a warning; strong language follows.

What would your dad say that gave you the impression that you wouldn't be accepted if you did come out to them?

River: Going on, like, if he got pissed at me for whatever reason, he'd always say that I go on about how people in my school are gay and he doesn't care about the fucking faggots in the school. My mother would call him homophobic and he'd say, 'No, I work with plenty of faggots in my work. I'm not homophobic, I just don't approve.' Just lots of slurs and just how he refers…or he'll point to people on the streets and say, 'That guy's a fag,' judging people by how they walk, how they dress, by how many piercings they have. He considered it a trend and I don't think he believes it's a real thing.

David Lewis: At this point, I want to bring in Sherri Bruinhout. She works for the homelessness service Melbourne City Mission and has a team of counsellors whose job it is to keep families like River's together. Through her work, she's seen many parents who once held deeply homophobic and transphobic views ultimately change their minds.

Sherri Bruinhout: We are so sick of seeing young people become homeless because family didn't get the support that they needed to get right back when things were salvageable.

David Lewis: Sherri says one case in particular springs to mind, involving a gay child with a migrant parent.

Sherri Bruinhout: Their son had come out to them at the age of 17 that he was gay. The father wasn't born in Australia, had come to Australia. He felt very strongly that in his country of origin they didn't have homosexuality, it just didn't exist, no one from his nationality was gay and that something had happened to his son in coming to Australia that had turned him gay. That father was really surprised when we showed him online chat forums for people in his home country who were gay, lesbian, queer, who were talking about their sexuality in online support groups. He was shocked but it opened up his mind to the fact that this was a reality and that it was acceptable.

David Lewis: A little over a year later, the father came around. But not every family stays together.

Sherri Bruinhout: To sit in a family mediation session and listen to a parent say 'I disown you' is a terrible thing to be part of and to witness and has a terrible outcome for those young people.

David Lewis: For River, there was no salvaging their relationship with their parents. There had always been problems, and the homophobia was the final straw.

River: I guess the main factor of it was since I was around four or five years old, they got progressively emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive, and when you're at that age and you basically have what you think you are basically torn out of you, and you don't really know what's real because they keep telling you that you're worthless, and just other stuff like putting aside all of your efforts to do anything, blaming stupid things. An example was that my mother blames me for her brain tumour starting to grow again because of all the stress I put her under with all of my bullshit.

David Lewis: And so, River ran away.

River: So when things started getting really bad, I called a friend and said, 'Hey, I can't deal with it here anymore. If I don't leave, I'm probably going to kill myself.' So yeah, her parents were really easy going and I guess I was lucky that they liked me. They let me stay with them for three months until I turned 15.

David Lewis: Those experiences would crush the average person and I think completely destroy their sense of self-worth, and yet you present as a very confident and intelligent young person. You must be pretty tough to put up with all of that.

River: I dunno if I'd say I'm tough. I guess in that situation you have to grow up quickly. There were plenty of times when I tried to give up, plenty of times. The first time I tried to kill myself was when I was nine. That's a bit dramatic, but yeah, it does destroy you a bit and I have a lot of stuff to show for it.

David Lewis: By 'stuff', River means emotional baggage and mental health issues. They're getting help for that now, thanks to Brisbane Youth Service or BYS, the same organisation that put them up in the refuge. Annemaree Callander is the CEO.

Annemaree Callander: Young people are incredibly resilient and some of the stories that we hear from them about what they've lived through and survived in the short time they've been on this earth is pretty incredible, but they still manage often to remain incredibly optimistic and hopeful, and that's pretty inspiring. And to play a small part in helping them find the right opportunities or to get the support they need to mature into adulthood, it's quite a privilege really.

David Lewis: Do you have any idea how many people come through your doors every year?

Annemaree Callander: Yes, we see about 1,400 individual young people or young families and accompanying children each year and those numbers have been gradually increasing in the five years that I've been in this role.

David Lewis: Annemaree estimates at least 13% of BYS clients are queer.

Annemaree Callander: But it really depends on whether or not young people are willing to identify or to reveal that information. So for young people that we have longer term contact with, over a period of weeks or months, they probably come to a point where they're happy to reveal that information, but we see a significant proportion of clients three or less times and that's not necessarily the information they're going to be forthcoming with if they're only in once or twice.

David Lewis: In other words, the real figure could be much higher. And that's the problem: nobody actually knows how many same-sex attracted and gender-diverse kids are homeless.

Susan Oakley: We don't actually collect data on this. So when young people present to services, accommodation services, youth services, our actual data collection doesn't actually ask those questions.

David Lewis: Susan Oakley is an Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide. She published a report three years ago on the experiences of LGBTI people who are homeless. In it, she's critical of the Special Homelessness Services Collection. If you've never heard of it, stay with me. Essentially it's a national database containing information on everyone who presents to homelessness support groups. Almost 1,500 frontline services contribute anonymous data about their clients to the collection. They fill out forms that ask questions like, 'Is the client Indigenous?' and 'Does the client have a disability?'

Do you think sexuality and gender identity should be added to the mix?

Susan Oakley: Absolutely. Why shouldn't it be? We're talking about aspects of people's identity, what actually constitutes them as a person. If we consider their ethnic background, their sex, their gender to be important, why wouldn't we include sexuality?

David Lewis: It comes down to this. If you're not counted you don't exist. And without data on the extent of LGBTI homelessness, it's difficult to see how services can plan for that group's particular needs. But that could be about to change. Background Briefing has learned the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection is reviewing the information it asks frontline services to provide about their clients. Introducing a question on whether a client is transgender or intersex is on the cards but it's unlikely a question on sexuality will be thrown in too. A spokeswoman said that could be too intrusive.

We may not know how many queer kids are homeless but we can guess as to why. You've already heard from Josie and River, who fled violence and abuse in the family home. But there's another key battleground for LGBTI young people: school.

Why were you bullied at school?

Topia: When I was younger I had a very high-pitched voice. I didn't really act feminine or anything, it's just because I had a really high-pitched voice and I would hang out with all the girls, even though I had girlfriends back then, but I would hang out with all the girls, we would hang out every day, I never had any guy friends, and I just had a really high-pitched voice.

David Lewis: That's Topia. He's 18 and gay.

So kids sensed you were different and they pounced on that?

Topia: Yeah, definitely. It was very brutal, I'm not going to lie. I got, like, bashed a few times. When I was over in NZ for a bit, I got followed home nearly every day and threatened to be killed and stuff. It was crazy, it was crazy, but I guess that's what happens. I guess people don't understand it and they're still kind of in the traditional ways that they were like ages ago but, oh well.

David Lewis: Topia's mum never had a problem with his sexuality as such, but she put her foot down when she discovered he'd been doing sex work. Topia said he needed the money, she couldn't understand why. After all, she'd given him food and shelter. And so, after a disagreement, she kicked him out. But despite all that drama, Topia tells me the hardest part about growing up gay wasn't family, it was school.

Topia: Yeah, like, throughout primary school to mid high school I went through depression, I went through self-harm, I tried to take my life once, but I saw a counsellor and actually he's one of the parts of why I came out when I was sixteen. He kind of just taught me throughout high school, you're just here to get an education, you don't need to worry about the people in school who bully you. Yeah, it might affect you but you're fighting for your education, not for your social status. So that's been a big kind of push for me, a big motivation in life, that's why I'm going through uni now because I can always think back to him and he helped me to accept that there are going to be people out there who say stuff about you but all you need to do is just pursue what you want to do. And so that's been a big motivation in my life really.

David Lewis: The Australian Human Rights Commission recognises bullying as a direct cause of homelessness. And statistics reveal bullying of LGBTI young people is happening at alarming rates.

Liam Leonard: In some national surveys that were done, about 80% of young people who were interviewed who identified as LGBTI had experienced homophobic or transphobic abuse, and the majority of that abuse, somewhere around 75%, actually occurred in schools.

David Lewis: Liam Leonard is the director of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria. His organisation also manages the Safe Schools Coalition in that state. You've no doubt heard a lot about that initiative in recent weeks. According to its website, the Safe Schools Coalition aims to create a safe and inclusive school environment for same-sex attracted, intersex, and gender diverse students, staff, and families. It's promoted as an anti-bullying program, although some Liberal Party conservatives see it differently. Here's what the Member for Mackay George Christensen had to say about it:

George Christensen: The Safe Schools program focuses heavily on child and teenage sexual activity, sexual attractions. It justifies almost any sexual activity, diminishes possible risks and harms, encourages young people to hide their activities from their parents.

David Lewis: And here's Senator Cory Bernardi:

Cory Bernardi: Well, it is dressed up as an anti-bullying program, that's officially what it is, but the program itself, the Safe Schools Coalition is actually more about intimidating and bullying kids into conforming to a…what is the homosexual agenda.

David Lewis: Under pressure to address these concerns, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a review of the Safe Schools Coalition. In response to its findings, the education minister Simon Birmingham announced a series of changes to the material it provides, including amending some lesson plans, restricting other content to one-on-one counselling sessions, and requiring children to get permission from their parents before they can take part. But what about those kids whose parents don't accept their queer identity? How do they get permission? I spoke to the minister on a scratchy phone line. He told Background Briefing those kids should see a school counsellor instead.

Simon Birmingham: You go to your school counsellor. If that's not available in your school then obviously speak with your teacher about whatever other welfare or wellbeing services you can access.

David Lewis: But they can't take part in Safe Schools without their parents' permission.

Simon Birmingham: Well, Safe Schools is a broad curriculum resource that is delivered in a broad way in a school environment. It's not about providing in terms of one-on-one support in the way that children in those circumstances would be needing.

David Lewis: Imagine for a moment you're a young queer person like Marshall, Josie, River, or Topia. You've fled difficult circumstances. You might be on the streets or in a shelter as a result but at least you're not a target anymore, right? Well, not exactly.

Marshall: Yeah, they've been pretty bad. They'd notice a little slight femininity in my voice or in the way that I look or the way that I present myself and they seem to, not turn the other cheek, but subliminally turn the other cheek.

David Lewis: That's Marshall, who you met at the start of this documentary. He's talking about a homelessness support service he felt was homophobic.

Marshall: I remember going to one, I'm not going to name names, but I went to one and I was having a chat with one of the Catholic workers and they were just talking about my situation and where it was and they asked why, and I told them the full story, and then she asked if I was gay, and I said yes. And it was almost as if her demeanour changed, her posture changed, everything changed, and it was almost as if she wanted to quickly get out of the conversation and when I was asking for the help that she mentioned, she just turned around and said it's not for me, so subliminally saying they don't want to help.

David Lewis: I hear a lot of stories like these. The discrimination can be real or imagined but nonetheless LGBTI young people say it remains a barrier to getting the help they need. Here's Topia again:

Topia: It's interesting because we're all homeless, we're all humans, even if your sexuality is something different to what the natural law of attraction is or whatever, like, it shouldn't change, we all need a home, we all need a bed, we all need somewhere to sleep and stuff.

David Lewis: About two-thirds of all homelessness support services in the country are faith-based organisations, which enjoy a broad exemption from anti-discrimination laws. That doesn't mean they have a license to discriminate whenever and however they see fit, there has to be consistency and transparency, but many LGBTI youth remain wary of approaching them nonetheless.

Liam Leonard: We know that a lot of LGBTI people either have an expectation that services will be discriminatory because of past bad experiences they've had or they actually have presented to services and received anything from ignorant comments around LGBTI people to outright abusive comments. And all the data shows that LGBTI people, as a consequence, are less likely to front up to a service because of that expectation, and when they do finally, if it's for mental health or physical health issues, the prognosis is much poorer because they've delayed seeking treatment.

David Lewis: Liam Leonard from Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria has overseen the development of the Rainbow Tick. It's kind of like a flag that homelessness services can wave to signal to LGBTI young people that their organisation is a safe place for them.

So does that quite literally mean there will be a Rainbow Tick on the websites of these services or on the front doors of these services?

Liam Leonard: Oh yes. Ten services have currently got Rainbow Tick accreditation. The largest is Uniting Care in NSW, I believe the largest agency for the delivery of residential aged care and it's a faith-based organisation and they got the tick a few weeks ago, and they're LGBTI-inclusive.

David Lewis: At the end of the day, that's all any of these young people want: to be included. What makes them different has also made them a target and they've paid a high price for being true to themselves. But each of them is determined to find a path out of homelessness. Support services are crucial to helping them on their way but there are concerns about the federal government's commitment to the cause.

Jenny Smith: We have very much taken the foot off the accelerator.

David Lewis: Jenny Smith is the chair of Homelessness Australia, the peak body representing support services across the country. The organisation is supposed to conduct research and provide advice to the federal government on policy. But in the lead-up to Joe Hockey's unpopular first budget, Jenny Smith learned Homelessness Australia would lose all its funding. When the money dried up last June, jobs were shed and offices emptied out. All that remains are the board members who are now volunteering their time in the hope the government will change its mind.

Jenny Smith: It makes a lot of sense to maintain what is really the equivalent of a company's research and development team. You have a single voice that can advise government of the views of a complex sector, can support government with appropriate resource allocation, highlight emerging issues.

David Lewis: Background Briefing contacted the office of Social Services minister Christian Porter to ask why Homelessness Australia was defunded, and a spokesman told us that the funding of such services is the responsibility of the states and territories

Many service providers fear the federal government has no real plan to tackle homelessness. Remember the bold promises of politicians past? Bob Hawke said no child would be living in poverty by 1990. Kevin Rudd pledged to halve homelessness by 2020. While neither goal was realised, Jenny Smith argues targets are important, even if we fall short.

Jenny Smith: I think they focus the community's mind and government's mind and I think without them we're not going to put the foot back on the accelerator.

David Lewis: The kids these decisions affect are a world away from the halls of parliament but they're determined to use some of their own power to find a home.

Josie: My stepdad tried to beat the gay out of me, I reckon. No, bitch, didn't work! You just turned me into a woman instead, you dumb-arse! No, I'm kidding, I've always wanted to be Josie. Now my wings are made to fly so I'm going to fly up high and I'm going to make sure that people realise that we are here and we're not going anywhere.

Marshall: I do hope I get out of this situation at some point. I feel like I'm going to head into a positive future possibly, but it is hard to keep my head held up high, it really is.

David Lewis: Where would you hope to see yourself in ten years' time?

River: I was thinking about going into forensic psychology or some other legal branch, so hopefully in a stable job, something…hopefully I enjoy it. I want to be happy, that's basically all I want.

David Lewis: Background Briefing's coordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research by Tim Roxburgh, technical production this week by Mark Don, our executive producer is Wendy Carlisle, I'm David Lewis. And you can podcast this show at any time, just head to the RN website.

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