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Egale forges ahead with LGBT youth shelter

Transitional housing will have 30 beds for queer and trans youth, expected by 2017

Egale addressed community members on April 27, 2016, and unveiled more details about its proposed LGBT youth shelter.  Credit: Arshy Mann

Egale is moving forward with plans to create a shelter for queer and trans youth in Toronto’s Downtown East.

Egale plans to renovate a building at 257 Dundas St E, at the intersection of Dundas St E and Pembrooke St, and turn it into 30 beds of transitional housing.

“The whole philosophy around what we’re doing is to establish a home,” said Helen Kennedy, the executive director of Egale, during a community meeting at the John Innes Community Centre in Moss Park. “We want our young people to feel like this is their space and that they are safe to come home.”

The Egale Centre will be the second shelter focused on queer and trans youth to open in Toronto. In February, the YMCA repurposed Sprott House in the Annex to operate as shelter for LGBT youth. Last year, city council earmarked $600,000 for the two projects.

Queer and trans youth are significantly more likely to be homeless or underhoused in Toronto than rest of the population and often avoid the shelter system because of violence and harassment.

Most of the beds will serve as transitional housing, but five of the beds will be set aside for emergency housing.

Kennedy says that each of the units will be fully self-contained and will include a microwave and a sink. A communal kitchen area will be accessible to residents and there will be counselling on site.

Kennedy emphasizes that the housing will not be a good fit for everybody and that some people may have to be referred to different agencies who could better deal with their needs. She said that it will be best suited for youth who are “already on a path to independence.”

“We will continue to case manage that young person, but the plan is to move them into independent living and permanent housing within that time frame,” she said. “We’re not going to evict someone if they’re not ready, but the length of stay is up to one year.”

Egale has partnered with Fife House and Dixon Hall to help with the operational side of the project.

“We know that as an organization that we even though we have a long history with LGBTI issues, we’re working really hard to put ourselves up to speed on the housing side of things,” Kennedy says.

The project will require around $6 million in capital fundraising, according to Kennedy. The firms involved with redesigning and developing the building, including SUSTAINABLE.TO Architecture + Building, the Daniels Corporation and Yabu Pushelberg, are all donating their expertise pro-bono.

Kennedy said that the primary differences between Sprott House and the Egale Centre are that Sprott House welcomes allies to stay in the shelter and that Egale plans to provide more intensive case management and counselling.

Kennedy expects to publicly unveil the project near the end of May. Construction is slated to begin in June, but Kennedy said that it is more likely to start up later in the year. The centre is expected to open in the summer of 2017.