Today, the City of Toronto, The 519 and Homes First Society announced the opening of the first transitional shelter for 2SLGBTQ+ adults. Located in the city’s west end, the shelter will open this week and provide beds for up to 20 people and will prioritize and provide temporary housing to LGBTQ+ refugees with a focus on trans women.
The new shelter is funded by the City, operated by Homes First Society and supported by The 519. Homes First Society is a provider of affordable, stable housing and support services while the 519 is Canada’s most prominent 2SLGBTQ+ multi service agency. The City provided $30,000 to The 519 to help support the development of a comprehensive program model to best support the clients on site along with a one-time start-up amount of nearly $121,000 to support initial site renovations. The City is also providing an annual operating budget.
The shelter is the result of months of work following consultations with more than 150 community members with lived experience of homelessness as well as service providers. The consultations served to inform the scope and nature of offered programs and services as well as the needs of 2SLGBTQ+ communities accessing emergency shelters. This new shelter addresses community concerns identified including a lack of dedicated shelter supports for 2SLGBTQ+ adults; violence and discrimination experienced by trans people, particularly women, in the shelter system; and the stigma and barriers faced by refugees when they come to Canada.
According to the City’s most recent Street Needs Assessment, an estimated 12 per cent of people experiencing homelessness in Toronto identify as 2SLGBTQ+; 3.1 per cent identify as trans, non-binary, and/or Two-Spirit. These numbers are likely an under-representation due to several factors including a reluctance to disclose one’s identity as well as access shelter programs due to concerns about safety and discrimination. The assessment is available on the City’s Street Needs Assessment webpage.
The shelter is an integral step to ensuring queer strength and resiliency and a response to systemic barriers. The needs of LGBTQ+ newcomers are also unique as they often have limited resources to begin anew in Canada and may not able to rely on local cultural communities for support due to their sexual and/or gender identities. This new shelter space will not only provide LGBTQ+ newcomers with critical supports, but also be a welcoming first home in Canada.
According to a Trans PULSE Canada study of both street involved 2SLGBTQ+ people and LGBTQ+ newcomers, racialized trans and non-binary respondents experience higher levels of violence and harassment, even when compared to already high levels among non-racialized respondents. The study is available on the Trans PULSE Canada website: Health and well-being among racialized trans and non-binary people in Canada
A similar 2019 Statistics Canada study found hate crimes targeting the 2SLGBTQ+ community rose 41 per cent – the highest since 2009 – more than half of which were violent crimes, The study is available on the Statistics Canada website: Brief on Police-Reported Crime Statistics in Canada, 2021: Hate Crimes Targeting Sexual Orientation
The shelter will incorporate an innovative model focused on building inclusive shelter standards that centre the safety, wellbeing and affirmation of 2SLGBTQ+ community members. The program model was designed to build sector capacity in a way that can be replicated, as needed, to meet the unique needs of those that are 2SLGBTQ+. The 519 will be the primary referral source for the new program, providing individualized support and group programming.
All shelters in Toronto work from a Housing First model, with a priority to assist clients to secure permanent housing. Homes First will provide housing workers who will work clients to develop a permanent housing plan and The 519 will lead follow-up support for ongoing transitional support beyond the shelter setting.
“The City welcomes the opportunity to provide funding for this critical transitional shelter for 2SLGBTQ+ adults. Working with The 519 and Homes First, the City will move forward in our goal to develop better, more inclusive shelter standards that centre on the safety, wellbeing and affirmation of 2SLGBTQ+ community members. We want everyone to have access to safe indoor shelter and this dedicated site will help to do that while also helping residents secure permanent housing.”
– Mayor John Tory
“I’m delighted to welcome this new transitional housing shelter for 2SLGBTQ+ adults to Toronto’s west end community. Everyone should have access to safe and secure shelter and housing options that meet their needs, and this innovative partnership between The 519 and Homes First is a step forward for our city. It’s critical that queer, trans, and non-binary newcomers and refugees have access to services and supports that can help them safely settle in their new country. As a refugee myself and someone committed to ensuring housing for all, I know a place to call home is the foundation for building a good life we all deserve. I’m happy to say Davenport is a place where new residents are welcomed with open arms.”
– Councillor Alejandra Bravo (Davenport)
“Toronto has long been a place that has supported those who need it most. In order to help address the critical need for shelter services and permanent supportive housing, it is important for all communities and all Torontonians to come together to provide the space for new services to address homelessness. It is even more important that we ensure we are providing services that address the needs of marginalized community members and new comers. This new shelter space will provide LGBTQ+ newcomers with critical supports and will serve as a welcoming first home in Canada for refugees.”
– Councillor Shelley Carroll (Don Valley North), Chair, Economic & Community Development Committee
“For more than 20 years, The 519 has been actively engaged in addressing barriers that 2SLGBTQ people experiencing homelessness face in the shelters and housing sectors. When the City asked us to help Homes First develop a program model to address those barriers we didn’t hesitate. We are so grateful to the 2SLGBTQ+ community and service providers who shared their experiences and expertise in informing the model and recommendations on how to transform the shelter and housing sector going forward. As a first step in establishing a dedicated shelter space that is affirming for 2SLGBTQ+ adults, we are laying the groundwork to change the way 2SLGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness are supported and provided lasting solutions to homelessness. I am proud to be able to actively take this important first step with Homes First.”
– Maura Lawless (she/her), Executive Director, The 519
“As one of the leading non-profit housing and shelter providers in our city, we are very proud to collaborate with the 519 to open Toronto’s very first shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ refugees and newcomers, with a priority focus on trans women. This new program will offer support services and shelter to many who have never been able to safely access it before.” – Patricia Mueller, CEO, Homes First Society
About The 519:
Since 1976, The 519 has served as a valuable and vibrant hub for 2SLGBTQ+ communities in Toronto and beyond, as well as for residents of Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. As Canada’s most prominent 2SLGBTQ+ community centre and service provider, it has been an affirming first touchpoint for many queer, trans and two-spirit folks looking to find community. Learn more on The 519’s website at www.The519.org
About Homes First Society:
Homes First operates long-term supportive housing sites, large-scale emergency shelters, and essential support services all across the Greater Toronto Area. Learn more on Homes First Canada’s website at www.homesfirst.on.ca
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