Toronto opens its first safe haven for LGBT youth

IN Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Court­ney Hard­wick

Canada’s first LGBT youth shel­ter opens its doors

On Fe­bru­ary 1, the YMCA re-opened its Sprott House in Toronto as a tran­si­tional house for LGBT youth. The shel­ter, lo­cated on Walmer Road in the An­nex, is the first LGBT-spe­cific pro­gram for youth ages 16 to 24 in Canada. Con­sid­er­ing that the City of Toronto’s 2012 Street Needs As­sess­ment study found that 20 per cent of youth in the shel­ter sys­tem iden­tify as some­where un­der the LGBTQ2SA um­brella, a pro­gram that fo­cuses on their unique needs has been a long time com­ing.

For Sprott House, the YMCA brought in new staff who have ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with LGBT youth, and many of them also iden­tify as LGBT. The ser­vices Sprott House pro­vides are sim­i­lar to other tran­si­tional hous­ing shel­ters, but the pro­gram adds the ben­e­fit of a safe space where LGBT youth can feel com­fort­able cel­e­brat­ing who they are.

The house pro­vides semi-in­de­pen­dent liv­ing for up to 25 youths at a time, and they each get their own bed­room and wash­room. For the year they’re al­lowed to stay at Sprott House, youths also have ac­cess to a coun­sel­lor, life skills train­ing and help set­ting goals that will pre­pare them for even­tu­ally liv­ing in­de­pen­dently.

Kate Miller, the di­rec­tor of YMCA Sprott House, says, “Many pro­grams across the coun­try that serve young peo­ple are in­creas­ing their ef­forts to serve LGBT young peo­ple, but th­ese changes don’t hap­pen im­me­di­ately. Youth should be able to ac­cess any ser­vices that they need with­out fear, in­clud­ing health care, men­tal health sup­port, and education. We are not there yet, but this is a step in the right di­rec­tion.”

Miller, who iden­ti­fies as bi­sex­ual her­self, also praised LGBT youths for help­ing make Sprott House a re­al­ity. “One of the most re­mark­able things about this pro­gram be­gin­ning is that the rea­son for open­ing came from youth them­selves,” she says. “LGBTQ2S youth ex­pe­ri­enc­ing homelessness ad­vo­cated within ex­ist­ing shel­ters, talked to work­ers, or­ga­nized, went to City Hall and fought for fund­ing for th­ese spa­ces. When you con­sider all of the bar­ri­ers fac­ing LGBTQ2S youth, this is in­cred­i­ble. I’m so glad the city coun­cil lis­tened to them and al­lo­cated this fund­ing.”

An­other out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for de­vel­op­ing pro­grams like Sprott House has been Alex Abramovich, a postdoc­toral re­search fel­low at the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health, and a trans­gen­der man. It was thanks in part to his re­search into Canada’s queer and trans youth homelessness that Toronto’s city coun­cil de­cided to al­lo­cate money from last year’s bud­get to fund the ini­tia­tive. “I feel like I have been work­ing for this day for 10 years,” Abramovich says.

But Sprott House is only the be­gin­ning. A se­cond tran­si­tional hous­ing pro­gram run by Egale (Equal­ity for Gays and Les­bians Ev­ery­where) is set to open in down­town Toronto later this year. They plan to serve up to 30 LGBT youths at any given time and hope to of­fer a num­ber of beds specif­i­cally for emer­gency shel­ter.

Above (L-R): Kate Miller, YMCA Sprott House; Louise Smith, Gen­eral Man­ager Youth Out­reach & In­ter­ven­tion; Dr. Alex Abramovich, Postdoc­toral Re­search Fel­low at the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health

Toronto) (Photo by Talia Noya/YMCA of Greater

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