This week, doors will officially open to Toronto’s first-ever dedicated shelter for 2SLGBTQ+ adults, adding 20 beds to the city’s vast and essential shelter network. Operating out of Toronto’s west end, the location will provide transitional housing for LGBTQ+ refugees with a focus on trans women.
The new shelter location comes at a time when Toronto’s homeless are facing grave realities -- the number of deaths among unhoused people is climbing each year, nearly doubling between 2019 and 2021, according to Toronto Public Health -- and other shelter systems are facing uncertainty.
At last count, an estimated 12% of people experiencing homelessness in Toronto identify as 2SLGBTQ+, and 3.1% identify as trans, non-binary, and/or Two-Spirit. However, a news release from the City notes, “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.”
The new shelter is funded by the City and backed by The 519, a 2SLGBTQ+ multi-service agency. Meanwhile, Homes First Society -- an agency currently operating 11 other shelter properties across Toronto -- will provide housing workers to help with operations and transitioning residents to permanent housing.
“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,” says Mayor John Tory. “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.”
In addition to a one-time start-up amount of nearly $121,000 to support initial site renovations, the City has provided $30,000 to The 519 to help the agency develop a program model for the shelter, including individualized support, group programming, and ongoing transitional support beyond the shelter setting. The City is also providing an annual operating budget.
“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,” says Maura Lawless Executive Director of The 519. “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.”