The 519 and Homes First Society have partnered to open the first transitional shelter for LGBTQ+ adults. Located in the city’s west end, the shelter provides beds for up to 20 people and provides 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 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 LGBTQ+ communities accessing emergency shelters. This new shelter addresses community concerns identified including a lack of dedicated shelter supports for LGBTQ+ 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 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. A similar 2019 Statistics Canada EGALE 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 shelter will incorporate an innovative model focused on building inclusive shelter standards that centre the safety, well-being and affirmation of LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+. 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.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.