The scene at Sprott House on the morning of Jan 14, 2016, was typical for a Toronto winter; dozens of people outfitted in parkas, toques and gloves taking any chance to complain about the cold.
Politicians, reporters and advocates had gathered behind the red-brick building to officially announce the re-opening of the YMCA’s Sprott House as Toronto’s first shelter for queer youth.
For Alex Abramovich, the frigid temperature itself was a reminder of why Sprott House is such a necessity.
“This is the reality what a lot of youth face,” he tells Daily Xtra. “It makes it very clear actually that this is so essential and so necessary.”
Abramovich, a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, has been working toward this moment for a decade. In large part, it’s his research into the specific needs of LGBT homeless youth that has pushed the issue onto the agenda.
“It breaks my heart when I interview young people and they share stories about how they’re not safe in shelters and how they’re living in parks and in conditions that nobody should be living in,” he told reporters.
Mayor John Tory told the crowd that while Sprott House is just one step in addressing the problem, it’s a meaningful one.
“This project is very important to me,” he said. “And it’s very important to me because it stands as symbol of how we do things here, how we live together.”
Last year, Toronto City Council voted to fund 54 shelter beds for queer youth, with Sprott House receiving funding for 25 beds. The rest will go to an initiative run by Egale, which will likely be unveiled later this year.
Abramovich said that the while the City of Toronto should continue focusing on providing shelter beds for queer youths, the provincial government also needs to get involved.
“The needs, especially here, are going to be different than more rural parts of Ontario,” he says. “We don’t exactly know what the needs are, and so once we figure that out we can develop a strategy.”
Abramovich pointed to the Alberta government’s homelessness strategy, which he helped formulate, as one that is worth emulating.
“We developed a specialized strategy to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth across the entire province of Alberta,” he says. “And that strategy is the first of its kind in Canada.”
Abramovich was disappointed that an Ontario government report on homelessness last year didn’t single out the unique needs of LGBT youth.
However, he’s still happy to see progress being made.
“I have never felt more proud of our city than I do this morning,” he says.
Sprott House will open on Feb 1, 2016. Applications are due Jan 20.