The Sprott House is catering to a specific need — to provide a safe shelter for young people within the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, there are not many shelters that offer these type of safe spaces, which is why Kate Miller, director of the YMCA Sprott House, was pleased to announce the new homeless youth shelter Thursday.
“Having a staff that has that experience with the LGBTQ community and having a place where help can accessed is essential,” she said.
The facility will provide 25 beds for Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender Queer Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S) youth aged 16 to 25 who are in need of shelter and resources. Each individual will be granted housing for up to a year and will have access to counselling, health centre referrals, and education planning, in addition to a personal room and washroom.
“For the residents who live here, they have access to a full-time outreach counsellor as well as doing outreach with organizations that they want to be able to work with outside of the shelter,” said Miller.
Alex Abramovich is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and is specifically studying homelessness among LGBTQ2S youth in Toronto. He has been a great motivator for realizing that homeless LGBTQ2S youth require specialized resources and staff with particular training. Abramovich’s research was presented to city council in 2012 and resulted in the 2013 Street Needs Assessment, which analyzed the homeless demographics within the city.
The 2013 Street Needs assessment revealed that approximately 21 per cent of the street youth in Toronto identify as LGBTQ2S in Toronto, and that a significant part of the homeless demographic is aboriginal and two-spirited, a population that has been often ignored in past discourses and research.
Abramovich is a passionate advocate for homeless LGBTQ youth and the Sprott House. According to his research, homeless youth that identify as LGBTQ2S experience transphobia and homophobia within many youth shelters. This is exemplified when a transgendered person is called a liar because of the gender on their identification.
As well, young transgendered individuals require certain medications for hormones and gender therapy treatment and can resort to unapproved street hormones that cause devastating health effects. According to Abramovich’s study “No Safe Place to Go”, “the lack of specialized health care services for transgender youth often results in youth turning to unmonitored street suppliers for transition-related treatment (e.g. hormones, silicone injections), which can have severe health complications”.
This YMCA Sprott House also advocates on behalf of the aboriginal two-spirit (2S) community, which is often ignored in youth shelters.
“I’m part of the group advising different types of programs and the intake process,”Abramovich said. “It is absolutely critical that we include two-spirit youth as well. Two-spirited youth have been forgotten for so long. They are absolutely included in the program.”
The YMCA Sprott House will also provide avenues for further homeless LGBTQ2S research. Abramovich explained that he looks forward to working with the Sprott House to create a research study that assessed the suicidality and depression of the youth upon entering and exiting the shelter program. “This will allow provinces across the country to replicate the research model if it is successful,” Abramovich said.
Overwhelming support on behalf of the community and Toronto has been demonstrated for the LGBTQ2S youth housing project. Mayor John Tory was present at the announcement and said, “The neighbours came forward to say they wanted to help to make this happen, they wanted to make friends, they wanted to make partners and be real neighbours. That is the true spirit of Toronto. That is the true example of the values that motivate us in the city and what makes this city so great.”
The YMCA Sprott House is a leading example of the importance for more LGBTQ2S-focused housing projects across Canada. Currently, the LGBTQ RainCity Housing in Vancouver has 900 beds for homeless youth, but has dedicated a section of the shelter to the LGBTQ community. Aura Host Homes foster parent program in Calgary also has a program that matches LGBTQ kids to specific parents that are LGBTQ friendly. Hopefully, more programs will open as a result of the success of these new initiatives in Canadian urban centres.
“The YMCA Sprott House is absolutely critical to meet this population’s needs and to provide inclusive, affirming and safe spaces,” Abamovich said. “It sets an example for Canada. It makes it very clear that LGBTQ2S youth belong and are cared for and that they can be their full authentic selves. I have never felt more proud of our city than this morning.”