Construction for the proposed shelter, run by Egale, will begin this fall.
For 10 years, activists lobbied City Council to support Toronto’s LGBTQ youth. Far too many, they said, were living on the streets, without a place to call home. Statistics proved their concerns to be true: on any given night, up to 2,000 young people across the city are homeless, with 460—nearly a quarter—of them identifying as LGBTQ.
Years passed, and finally, in 2015, the City voted in favour of funding shelters for queer youth—the first of which, the YMCA Sprott House for LGBTQ youth and allies, opened in January.
Now, construction on yet another LGBTQ transitional home is in the works.
In a meeting yesterday at John Innes Community Centre, Egale Executive Director Helen Kennedy, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), and members of Sustainable T.O. unveiled plans to reconstruct two Toronto Community Housing buildings into shelters for the city’s vulnerable. Come next year, the Egale Centre, at Dundas and Pembroke, will serve as Canada’s first exclusive transitional housing facility for LGBTQ youth.
In a 2010 study, researchers found that 23 per cent of homeless youth [PDF] identified as LGBTQ, and are overrepresented in the national homeless population. (A similar study by the City of Toronto pegged the number at 21 per cent.) Egale’s vision is to not only provide a safe and temporary living space for homeless LGBTQ youth, but to also provide services that will enable them to successfully transition into independent living.
In its 2015 budget, the City allocated $600,000 to fund 54 beds in two shelters for LGBTQ youth. Twenty-five of those funded beds are now in use at Sprott House.
But according to Kennedy, the proposed Egale Centre will, unlike Sprott, not accommodate LGBTQ allies, making it the first queer-exclusive transitional home in the country.
The shelter will also have special rooms available for LGBTQ couples, and will allow residents to bring in pets, complete with a pet-washing area onsite.
The new state-of-the art facility will house up to 30 LGBTQ youth aged 16 to 29, and will see a revamp of the current north and south buildings and a new, three-storey addition between the two structures. While the north building will house the shelter’s communal facilities such as a kitchen, common areas, and dining room, the red brick building on the property’s south side will be home to shelter’s bedrooms, complete with en suite facilities like basic cooking amenities and a private washroom.
Craig Race, an architect with Sustainable T.O., said that the proposed design will preserve the heritage of the existing buildings but will also look to enrich the facility through modernization and incorporation of sustainable, green energy. Through the use of vertical sun shades, Sustainable T.O. will not only turn the west, sun-facing facade into a source of heat for the building, but will also help mould its visual identity.
“We joke in the office that right now the building is very two-spirited, and we want to celebrate the two-spirited nature and help you find that identity and in it, together, something that’s going to celebrate what’s already there by bringing it into the modern day,” Rice says.
Councillor Wong-Tam, who has actively advocated for LGBTQ rights in Toronto and similar housing projects such as the George Street Revitalization, says the new shelter will be a much-needed move to support a vulnerable population.
“I think that there is something to be said about what happens when you actually serve the community with your heart on your sleeve, knowing that the best thing that you can do is to create a service that will ensure that young people–our kids–are able to have that next step, that safe opportunity to move to a place where they can live a fulfilled life,” she says.
Construction is expected to begin early fall with a proposed launch date of June 2017.