The Annex Welcomes Canada's First LGBTQ2S Youth Shelter
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The Annex Welcomes Canada’s First LGBTQ2S Youth Shelter

After a 10 year effort to make it happen, Toronto will open Canada's first LGBTQ transitional house on February 1.

Sprott House is Canada’s first LGBTQ2S youth shelter.

On any given night, 400 LGBTQ2S youth are homeless in Toronto. That total represents 20 per cent of the city’s homeless youth, and 8 per cent overall.

Now, thanks to a decade-long fight by local CAMH researcher and advocate Dr. Alex Abramovich, Canada’s first dedicated transitional housing for LGBTQ2S youth will open its doors on February 1.

Located on Walmer Road in the Annex, the home will provide semi-independent housing, counselling and other support for up to a year for 25 applicants aged 16-24.

At a press conference outside Sprott House, community leaders and local politicians touted the opening as a necessary first step in a broader strategy to provide more support to LGBTQ2S youth.

Kate Miller, Director of YMCA Sprott House, looks forward to offering a long-term supportive system that helps youth transition to adulthood.

“Providing not just a place to stay, but one that is safe and affirming, is something LGBTQ2S youth have been advocating for a long time. We are very excited to be able to provide this service,” said Miller.

Local Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) helped lead the initiative and praised the surrounding community for their involvement in welcoming the youth.

“I grew up here and I live two blocks from here and I am so proud of this community. This is not about tolerance or acceptance, this is about real equality,” said Cressy.

Tory at Sprott

Mayor John Tory addresses reporters with Councillour Joe Cressy and Dr. Alex Abramovich.

Mayor John Tory was also on hand to welcome the landmark shelter.

“This project stands as a symbol of how we live together and I am most proud of the reaction of local residents,” said Tory.

Representatives from the YMCA and the Annex Residents Association also praised the development as a long overdue project that will meet the needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“There should be a home and a place for everyone,” said David Harrisson, chair of the Annex Residents Association.

The first of its kind in Canada, the 25-bed LGBTQ2S home will provide housing, training, and the YMCA has already begun to receive applications, and the first group of youth will move in by February 1, 2016. The application deadline is January 20.

Often subjected to hate and violence, LGBTQ2S youth avoid shelters for fear of being attacked because of their sexual identity. This point was made by Abramovich, who has researched LGBTQ youth homelessness for more than a decade and is one of few Canadians studying the subject.

“I have never been prouder of this city than I am right now. This project sets an example for all services in our city and for all of Canada,” he said.

Research shows that LGBTQ youth are more likely to be homeless in part because of rejection by their friends and family after coming out, and can lack the support network they need.

Kusha Dadui, Trans Youth Program Co-ordinator at Supporting Our Youth (SOY), an LGBTQ youth program of the Sherbourne Health Centre, remains cautiously optimistic about the announcement.

“This is a great first step but my concern is around staff at the facility and trans youth who often are the most marginalized and specifically trans women of colour who experience not only racism from within their own community but also suffer from police harassment. This year alone we have lost four trans women of colour,” said Dadui, referring to 2015.

A 30-bed LGBTQ2S shelter, administered by the non-profit Egale, will open sometime later in 2016.

Photos by Samira Mohyeddin