What started out in 1894 as an outreach mission of the Methodist Church offering help to homeless men is about to become the only service in the city offering employment services targeting trans people.
A multiservice agency working with homeless, low income and marginalized adults, the Fred Victor Centre offers advocacy, support and training, in addition to its meal and shelter programs.
“This was the first shelter in Toronto to be open to trans people 10 years ago,” says Fred Victor’s employment and training manager Kirsten Schmidt-Chamberlain. “We took an active role working with trans [people] approximately four years ago.”
On Mon, May 14 the centre will launch two new initiatives: trans-only hours every Monday afternoon and a facilitated group program for trans people looking for employment and housing.
Trans-only time at Fred Victor will operate every Monday from 1:30pm to 4:30pm.
“The employment resource centre has been open to trans people but targeted services means that people will be able to have their specific needs met,” says Schmidt-Chamberlain.
“We recognize the barriers to employment are humongous. We – the big we, not just Fred Victor – need to be working more with employers to recognize [the value of] people’s resumés and that their physical presentation shouldn’t be the barrier.”
During the trans-only hours the centre will be staffed by trans people, workers with trans partners and “really nice LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] people.
“We will offer resumé assistance, interview skills, Internet, phone and fax access and photocopying,” says Schmidt-Chamberlain. “We’ll provide one-to-one counselling assistance to help people figure out where they’re going with their job search, and we’ll have a variety of computer workshops.”
The Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto has provided $5,000 in financial support for the centre’s trans-only hours.
The second initiative, called Thrive, is an ongoing group program focussing on employment and housing issues. Cofacilitated by Holden Keys and Jacqueline Quest, the group will meet weekly, with opportunities for one-on-one counselling and group chats.
Mark Pusey, director of development and communications, says trans services have developed as the user base has shifted.
“In the past if a trans individual came looking for services we would have done our best to provide services or find them an agency to better provide service,” says Pusey. “It was only three or four years ago that we noticed an increase in the number of trans people looking for services and especially shelter.”
The new programs are the result of a needs assessment Fred Victor held in partnership with the 519 Community Centre last summer.
“[The needs assessment] found that the transgendered community has a lot of barriers to employment, education and training,” says Schmidt-Chamberlain. “We asked the folks who came to that what they need and what else we could be doing.”
Schmidt-Chamberlain says she knows that the centre’s new trans programs won’t be able to address all of the existings gaps in services.
“I want to get the message out that it ain’t gonna be perfect on the first day. We know that there are so many other needs that need to be met. This is the start.”