Shaun D’Souza, youth worker and LGBTIQAP+ artivist, Queerstories

Challenges with housing is multifaceted, but people in positions of power can actually solve it easily if they wanted ...

The issue of youth homelessness – particularly as it applies to trans and gender-diverse youth and people of colour – is one created as a result of systemic inequalities. Surmounting the barriers placed between disadvantaged youths and access to stable living situations and health services is an urgent issue, and those supporting and advocating on behalf of these groups play a crucial role in rectifying the imbalance and providing guidance. Youth workers like Shaun D’Souza are tackling the issue head-on, utilising artivism to connect with and empower disadvantaged communities and reduce levels of social isolation. In addition to their work with marginalised youths, Shaun is also an inspirational creative force. They’ll be speaking as part of Queerstories at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Saturday November 16. Ahead of the event, we spoke with Shaun about their work combating trans and gender-diverse youth homelessness, creating safe spaces for minority groups, using art to connect, and how the general public can be a better ally.

Take us back to the beginning of your career working in the young people homelessness sector – what first encouraged you to be a youth worker?
I had the privilege of initially supporting young homeless people as a part of my student placement for university. I was here exposed to the marginalisation that young people experience that inadvertently effect their capacity to sustain housing. From there on, I committed to learn more about the people of Brisbane, especially those who belong to several intersections of identity that face discrimination.

Much of your work focuses on combating trans and gender-diverse youth homelessness, as well as creating accessible and safe spaces for people from minority groups. For those that might be unaware of the challenges experienced by the people from these communities, what are some of the major barriers placing them at a disadvantage?
The boundaries put in place by the gender binary and heteronormativity is largely prevalent in mainstream society and has caused a lot of damage to trans and gender-diverse people systemically. These boundaries, historically, were also in ways put in place by British colonisation and the challenges that trans and gender-diverse people face are still much prevalent, often not covered by news outlets. These challenges trickle down to people often experiencing housing instability and poor experiences with accessing health services, which has also resulted in drastically high rates of social isolation, self-harm and suicide.

In your role as a youth worker, how do you primarily try to tackle these disadvantages, institutional and otherwise?
A large portion of the work in my advocacy involves raising awareness and conveying the message that everyone deserves fairness in our society regardless of their gender, sexuality, nationality and ability. I also aim to create art that calls out for inclusion, especially for those LGBTIQAP+ individuals who are also people of colour.

You’re a vocal advocate for artivism – blending creative endeavour with socially conscious activism. Can you break down how art and creativity are commonly best used to address issues affecting minority groups?
I am exposed to a large amount of disadvantage that people of the LGBTIQAP+ community in Brisbane experience. I find that it is not in my privilege to create art without addressing issues that are important to my community, and allowing space in my activism to listen and learn from communities that I am not a part of (First Nation’s people, people with disabilities, etc.). I believe that the mere existence of art, diversity and culture in the face of oppression is a sign of protest and can empower people to engage in artivism just by speaking up their truth.

What are some of your personal highlights and proudest achievements working in the homelessness sector to date?
I find myself to be incredibly privileged to be allowed by young people to be in their journey to find stability. Most of my work includes creating space for young people to find self-empowerment. This pretty much makes every single moment with them special.

You spend your days assisting and caring for others – how do you practice self care?
I have an amazing community of people around me who outrightly support me and my work. Having a therapist and people in the community I can regularly engage with to work on my challenges has been the most effective form of self care for me.

You’ve written about ways the community can be better allies to gender-diverse people of colour. Are there any ways that the greater public can contribute positively towards solving the issues surrounding youth disadvantage (organisations worth supporting, ways they can volunteer, etc.)?
The greater public needs to realise that homelessness does not exist because we do not have enough homes. Homelessness exists because we do not have enough affordable homes. Having people on the streets costs more to the government than actually housing them. We need more people to advocate for affordable housing. We need more people to support the destigmatisation of alcohol and other drug use. We need more people to advocate for a mental health system that goes beyond the ten-session model. Challenges with housing is multifaceted, but people in positions of power can actually solve it easily if they wanted.

You’ll be taking the stage at Brisbane Powerhouse next month as part of Queerstories. Can you give us insight into the story you’ll be sharing with the audience on the night?
I am so excited to be back on Queerstories, especially at the Powerhouse! I have some big announcements – it is all a secret, so hush now. Come find out!!

Finally, as a Brisbane local, where are some of your favourite spots to dine, play or explore?
I am a huge fan of Asian food and Sunnybank is my go-to escape for some yummy treats! I also enjoy spending time in nature, so I take any opportunity to go for a cheeky hike or a lazy afternoon picnic at a nearby park.

Shaun will be participating in the latest edition of Queerstories, taking place at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Saturday November 16. Click here to purchase tickets now!

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