NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie was in Toronto Feb 10, where she pledged that the federal party will support a national housing strategy that includes supports for a queer youth shelter in the city.

Leslie was meeting with a group of activists who are lobbying for the creation of a stand-alone queer youth shelter to meet the needs of a large population of street-affected queer young people. A study has estimated that queer people comprise between 25 and 40 percent of Toronto’s homeless youth and that queer youth face violence and oppression in the existing shelter system.

After the meeting, Leslie told Xtra that the party will put support for a Toronto queer youth shelter into its 2015 election platform. “Come hell or high water,” Leslie says. “We’re going to make it happen. There’s a gang of us that are really serious about this.”

Leslie says the initiative will likely be part of the NDP’s national housing strategy, which will include dedicated transfer payments to the provinces to help solve the housing crunch. But she stressed that, ultimately, housing is a local issue that is left to the provinces. “In some communities, co-op housing really takes off. In others, not-for-profit housing works,” Leslie says. “It’s up to local communities to decide what that looks like.”

Toronto is the only place in Canada where the creation of a queer youth shelter is being discussed, Leslie says. A working group has been meeting since 2010, and city council recently passed a motion calling for a feasibility study on the idea.

But federal support for the project may hit a wall if city council ultimately rejects the idea. And there’s no word on how to accommodate queer homeless youth in other cities, considering housing and social welfare fall under provincial jurisdiction. Still, Leslie suggests an NDP government could use the federal government’s funding power to enforce standards on the provinces.

“It might be that there is a specific aspect of our federal housing strategy that takes into account queer homeless youth,” she says. “That’s harder to grasp right now because it’s at the beginning stages of the idea, but . . . when you have an idea that comes from the grassroots like this, you’ve got to figure out a way to support it.”

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