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Monday, December 20, 2010

Toronto Group Pushes for Gay Homeless Youth Shelter

By Brandon Miller -

In a September blog post, asked why Toronto doesn't have a homeless gay youth shelter. Somebody seems to be listening. In fact, Toronto will hopefully have a new gay youth shelter for street kids sooner rather than later. Merry Christmas, right? Maybe?
The Spectrum Youth Needs Committee has been holding community consultations around Toronto to strike up conversation around gay homeless youth. The goal of the group is to determine  the resources that homeless queer youth need and how best to proceed with the project of building a centre (Sorry, but they're called centres up here, not centers.). The idea is that these conversations will build support for a project that will house gay and trans youth with nowhere else to go.
“We had an initial meeting,” says Michael Erickson, who recently ran for (and lost) city council. “And a few of us took responsibility to hold community outreach meetings, so we would have a broad base of people who wanted to contribute their time and ideas to the project.”
Studies have identified that between 25 and 40 percent of homeless youth report being gay or trans. Many of these kids have been kicked out of their homes or left due to physical and/or emotional violence. And many of them find little community support. Some report feeling unsafe in the current homeless shelter environment due to homophobia and transphobia amongst the staff and other residents. And trans youth, understandably, get hit especially hard when they encounter single-sex dormitories and bathroom areas.
“I don’t think it’s possible (to increase the queer-friendliness of existing shelters),” says Erickson. “The shelter system replicates the presence of homophobia in our society. You can’t ask youth going through the most traumatic point in their lives to be on their best behavior.”
That said, there are still many questions that the community has about an LGBT shelter. Where would it be housed? Would it be only for emergencies or a longer-term residence? Who will fund it?
“One of the things I’ve experienced in the past doing this kind of community work is that we’re focused on critique and consequences,” says Erickson. “But it can’t be worse than it currently is. Suicide is the number one cause of death for youth in our province, often because of identity issues. Youth are dying because they don’t have this.”

petition text -
Please focus on the problem of LGBT youth homelessness

Dear Children's Services Advisory Committee,

Upwards of 40 percent of youth who are homeless in the city of Toronto identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Yet, as has been noted by a number of studies and political candidates, Toronto has no dedicated homeless shelter for LGBT youth. Moreover, at conferences that have taken place in the past year, academics and experts have noted that programs and services offered by the city of Toronto often fail to take into consideration the problem of homelessness among LGBT youth.

Let's turn this trend around. I'd be curious to hear what the city of Toronto is doing to fight LGBT homelessness, particularly among youth, and whether or not the Children's Services Advisory Committee would get behind the idea of establishing a homeless shelter focused solely on LGBT youth. New York already has one, and it provides a great resource and safe space for LGBT youth in the city.

Given Toronto's high rates of LGBT homeless youth, it sounds like an initiative like this would do wonders to help youth who are on the streets.

Thank you for your time.

[Your name here]

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