In a few weeks, a temporary home for homeless LGBTQ+ youth will open its doors in Toronto for the first time.
After years of construction and planning, the transitional facility Friends of Ruby Home will provide a place to stay for 33 LGBTQ+ youth starting on Dec. 1, with each person getting their own room. Some of the rooms will be available for young people who need emergency shelter too. There is no set duration for how long occupants stay, but applications to live in the home will open yearly.
The home at 257 Dundas St. E. is groundbreaking, as only eight other facilities like Friends of Ruby Home exist globally, according to the Globe and Mail.
Here’s what’s known about the facility, which was custom-built with queer and trans people in mind:
The home has several cozy features
Residents can expect a greater degree of privacy and accessibility in the temporary home than in other facilities. Each suite will have a personal bathroom, sink, individual temperature controls, and windows that can be opened or shut. Five of the rooms are wheelchair-accessible and two rooms can accommodate couples.
Communal spaces such as a rooftop garden can also be enjoyed, with residents staggering out use of the space due to pandemic restrictions. Each room has its own ventilation system, which will help reduce COVID-19 spread.
The home provides more than a roof
The transitional home, which accepts youth ages 16 to 29 and has space for couples, will be providing tailored mental health support, employment training, and other in-house services, a press release states, with offerings inspired by extensive consultation with LGBTQ+ community members.
A 2012 report made by Egale Canada on the needs of homeless queer and trans youth, which led the organization to develop Friends of Ruby and the facility, noted that it would take a harm reduction and intersectional approach to addressing the challenges youth face.
When it comes to their daily lives, each youth will be living independently for the most part, with case manager meetings and some shared programming with other occupants available. Youth can also share input on how the home runs in group meetings.
“Our approach isn’t one-size-fits-all,” Lucy Gallo, Friends of Ruby youth and housing services director, told HuffPost Canada. “Some will be going to school, some will be newcomers trying to get their documents in order, others may be working part-time ... we wanted it to feel like a home, not an institution.”
The pandemic has made life harder for LGBTQ+ youth
For queer and trans youth who are currently homeless, especially those most vulnerable — struggling to meet basic human needs, or “living rough” — access to a place like Friends of Ruby Home is much-needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made life for homeless LGBTQ+ youth even harder, Gallo noted, adding that they’ve heard youth say they feel “more judged” and have fewer social nets available, an already tough find amid an affordable housing crisis and record-breaking food insecurity.
“Our youth are spending more time on the streets, we’re not seeing youth we usually see at the drop-in ... there’s more isolation than before,” they said. “Food and getting ahold of financial [help] has been very difficult for folks.”
To keep social distancing measures in place at the facility, some shared programs like cooking classes will need to be accessed by youth at different times.
Pets are allowed
The home is the first pet-friendly facility of its kind in Canada, a decision made after youth attending Friends of Ruby’s drop-in program expressed how important pets are to their well-being, Toronto Storeys reported.
“Pets provide unconditional love and actively act as a source of comfort, especially during unexpected transition periods,” a PetSmart spokesperson told the outlet, as the company funded a space for pet grooming.
Why LGBTQ-specific housing is important
Many young queer and trans Canadians have, at some point in their lives, felt unsafe or unable to go home.
In Toronto alone, anywhere from 23 to 40 per cent of the city’s homeless youth are LGBTQ+; the highest estimate suggests that one in three underhoused youth identifies as such. Indigenous youth in particular are overly represented and face substantial barriers, according to a 2014 B.C. survey.
These experiences — which range from living on the street indefinitely to couch-surfing for short periods of time — are common. The risk factors that contribute to homelessness, such as substance use, mental health struggles, and suicide, are also disproportionately high for community members, a round-up by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation stated.
Many young adults and teens have trouble finding inclusive support and know that the shelter system isn’t always the safer route: transphobia and homophobia are widely reported, with Egale Canada’s report stating that youth had “almost universally negative reactions” when asked about their experiences.
“I slept under Bathurst Bridge. I avoided the shelters because I was afraid of being bashed,” one youth told Egale Canada.
Reducing LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, Gallo said, is still a pressing issue.
“The [home] helps, but doesn’t solve the problem. We can only house 33 youth, but more needs to happen,” Gallo said.
Applications to stay at Friends of Ruby Home are closed for now, but open up next year. Gallo said that even if LGBTQ+ people aren’t eligible to stay at the facility, they should still get in touch.
Case managers can support youth find housing, as well as crisis and healthcare access support.
Support for underhoused LGBTQ+ youth
There are several national, provincial, and local resources underhoused youth can rely on. For LGBTQ support:
Aside from Friends of Ruby Home, YMCA Sprott House in Toronto is another transitional housing program for queer and trans youth under 24 years of age.
RainCity Housing in Vancouver provides select housing to LGBTQ+ youth.
Looking to support a youth? Eva’s Initiatives For Homeless Youth made a toolkit for creating welcoming spaces. Toronto initiatives that homeless youth may access, such as Pieces to Pathways, Maggie’s Sex Worker Action Project and SKETCH Working Arts, continue to accept donations; local outlet YoHomo lists several general LGBTQ+-positive charities that are also lending a hand.
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