This past winter, the City of Toronto announced a new transitional housing facility dedicated to serving Canadian LGBTQI2S youth would be opening, and today, ten months later, the facility officially opened its doors to its first group of residents.
The new facility, located at 257 Dundas Street East, provides housing for 33 youth between the ages of 16 and 29, who identify as LGBTQI2S -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and two-spirit -- and are currently experiencing homelessness.
Run by Friends of Ruby, a registered charity dedicated to serving LGBTQI2S youth who often experience disproportionally high rates of family rejection, violence, and trauma, the facility will give residents a safe place to live for three to 12 months, depending on need, with an option to extend their stay after the first year.
“The Friends of Ruby Home is uniquely suited to help LGBTQI2S youth during these times due to its one-of-a-kind mental health approach, including in-house programs and services tailored to their specific needs," said Carol Osler, Executive Director, Friends of Ruby.
"From immediate crisis support to long-term life goal planning, everything at the facility will be geared towards helping youth achieve healthier, independent lives.”
From the outside, the new centre, which was once an underutilized Toronto Community Housing Corporation building, has a very different look compared to traditional shelters, as it combines an 1870s heritage house and a 1970s apartment building by Jerome Markson.
The innovative interior design, created by Yabu Pushelberg, and the building's overall design by architect Paul Dowsett of Sustainable, grew from a comprehensive consultation process with LGBTQI2S youth from the community, whose thoughts and feedback were incorporated into the final building.
Inside, the newly renovated space features mostly individual rooms, with a few rooms for couples, along with shared spaces to foster a sense of connection. It is fully accessible, energy-efficient, pet-friendly, and features a rooftop garden.
Offered services will focus on providing a safer space where youth can access meals, mental and physical health care services, and community and life skills programming.
Youth will also be able to access supports for specific communities, including groups for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) youth, transgender people, newcomers, and refugees.
"LGBTQI2S youth are overrepresented in our homeless population, and homophobia and other acts of discrimination mean that the streets can be unsafe," said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto Centre.
"Creating this transitional home will be life-transforming for so many people. I am extremely proud to be a champion of this project and am thrilled that these youth will have a safe place to have community and a place of belonging.”
Friends of Ruby was founded by Egale Canada, which was awarded the contract to operate the project by the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration Division in 2014. The City provided Friends of Ruby with $1.15 million to help offset construction costs and will provide them with $1.2 million annually to assist with operating costs.
According to the City’s Street Needs Assessment conducted in 2018, one in four youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQI2S and the new transitional housing facility will provide much-needed support to help vulnerable youth exit homelessness.