A provincial infusion of $2.5 million for queer services announced this month was met with both sighs of relief and cheers of excitement by activists and service providers.
Minister Of Health And Long-Term Care George Smitherman, who is openly gay, announced new funding for the Sherbourne Health Centre, the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans (LGBT) Youth Line, Supporting Our Youth (SOY) and the LGBT Parenting Network.
“Sherbourne Health Centre is a piece of the legacy of the Wellesley Hospital that is crucial to the downtown community,” says Smitherman. “This was seen as an opportunity to provide a comprehensive service to the LGBT population.”
Smitherman says that the provincial government recognizes that the queer community is a vulnerable population and wants to ensure equitable access to healthcare.
Denny Young, director of communications and fundraising for the Sherbourne Health Centre, says their share of the money is part of a planned expansion taking place in January as the centre grows to 80,000 square feet from 15,000.
Sherbourne’s $2,067,000 increase in base funding will allow it to hire 16 new staff, begin the operation of a homeless infirmary and increase the number of client visits by 35,000.
Sherbourne’s primary client groups are the LGBT population, homeless and underhoused people and newcomers to Canada. It’s also home to SOY and, part of the time, the LGBT Parenting Network.
Network coordinator Rachel Epstein says that the $180,000 they’re getting will allow for the coordination of services between Sherbourne, the 519 Community Centre and the Family Service Association Of Toronto. (The three groups are currently holding a contest for a new name for the program.)
“It looked like we would have to close our doors,” says Epstein. “This was really last minute. It was kind of a surprise to all of us.”
“This is incredibly positive,” Bev Lepischak, program manager at SOY. “For the first seven years we had no ongoing operating funds. This is a really positive statement of support; we’re very pleased.”
Government support has been a real confidence booster for the staff, she says.
“Community development isn’t something that people see as part of health. Most health money flows to the treatment of disease.”
Smitherman says he wants his department to be more proactive in health and that funding these groups was an ideal opportunity. He pointed to the Sherbourne’s smoking cessation program for gay men as an example of the way in which Sherbourne is situated to provide unique and supportive healthcare.
“We want to make sure that the LGBT program [of Sherbourne Health Centre] has services that it needs and can reflect the diversity of the community,” says Smitherman.
Philip Wong, executive director at the Youth Line, says that this funding provides security and stability. Both he and Lepischak spend a lot of time trying to secure grants from individuals, corporations and foundations. The government funding won’t end that. For the Youth Line, the provincial funding of $84,750 represents between 20 and 25 percent of the overall budget. At SOY, the $170,000 represents about 40 percent of the yearly budget; they’re still $200,000 short this year.
Lepischak explains that in addition to the general shortfall, federal funding for homeless programs (known as SCPI) is running out at the end of February because the federal Conservative government has not yet agreed to renew the program. SOY has received SCPI funding for six years. As well, almost 40 community programs in Toronto are scheduled to close or severely restrict their services because of the nonrenewal of SCPI funds.
Smitherman says this announcement of queer money may not be the last. He says he is still trying to find money for the Rainbow Health Network, a provincewide network of individuals working on queer and gender issues in healthcare.