Egale Centre Featured in the Globe and Mail / by Michael Mazurkiewicz

Read the full article here.

After a fight with his parents, a young gay man from North Toronto left home with nowhere to go. He found Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, an outreach and national advocacy organization for LGBT youth in Toronto, and arrived at their doorstep one Friday.

The organization set him up at a city shelter, but he was terrified – for many young people in the LGBT community, a shelter is not a safe space. Instead, he logged onto Grindr, a gay meet-up app. But when he arrived back at Egale on Monday morning, the young man was in rough shape.

Thankfully, the need to escape unwelcome shelters will soon be over. A $10-million project has begun to address a growing need for LGBT youth housing in Toronto.

Thankfully, the need to escape unwelcome shelters will soon be over. A $10-million project has begun to address a growing need for LGBT youth housing in Toronto.
Egale Centre, its name is an acronym for “equality for gays and lesbians everywhere,” will build transitional and emergency housing, and on-site crisis counselling exclusively for youth identifying as LGBTQ2S – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two spirit. The building will have 30 rooms – 25 units dedicated to transitional housing that can be occupied for up to one year, and five emergency units. The shelter will be converted from an old city housing property at 257 Dundas St. E., at the intersection of Dundas and Pembrooke streets.

According to Egale’s executive director, Helen Kennedy, close to 23 per cent of the homeless population of Toronto identifies as LGBTQ2S. But she says that number does not account for youth on the outskirts, who are couch-surfing or engaged in sex work and fall through the data cracks.

Ms. Kennedy says the homeless problem stems in part from the homophobic and transphobic culture of youth shelters, something that Egale Centre hopes to combat.

“The goal is to help LGBT youth feel valued and cared for regardless of their identity,” Ms. Kennedy said. “This is a home, it is not an institution.”

The centre’s campaign has some of the biggest names in Toronto behind it. One of those names is Ed Clark, former president and CEO of TD Bank.

For Mr. Clark, the issue is both personal and professional. His daughter is a lesbian, but he says that isn’t the only reason he has dedicated so much of his life to LGBTQ2S rights.

“I was passionate about this topic long before my daughter came out,” he said. “Most of the insight and emotional drive has been the employees whose lives I’ve changed.”

Mr. Clark spearheaded same-sex benefits at TD before gay marriage was legal and has contributed funds used to build Egale’s counselling centre, which opened its doors in 2014.

The type of specialized housing that Egale Centre intends to provide has only become feasible in the past year. In 2015, a portion of Toronto’s budget was dedicated to help fund two LGBTQ2S youth shelters, an acknowledgment of years of advocacy and research on the topic. The first shelter, YMCA’s Sprott House, opened in the Annex in February.

Mr. Clark says Egale sees people from all over Canada come to the centre just looking for a place to feel safe and loved.

“If we do this well then we can look to other cities in Canada,” he said. “It’s not just a Toronto problem.”

While Toronto has other shelters for youth, not all of them are supportive, Mr. Clark said. “It’s not that the people that run them are homophobic, but you can get a rough, tough atmosphere, and when you put a 16-year-old lesbian in there, bad things can happen.”

Alex Abramovich, an independent scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health agrees. He says specialized housing is a critical service and one that took years to get the attention it deserves in the city.

“It’s really great that we’ve come to this point where we have two LGBT shelters in Toronto,” he said. “When I first started doing this work, it was completely out of the question.”

Mr. Abramovich spent a decade researching new guidelines for shelter staff, the first changes to city-shelter standards and protocols in 12 years. But he says that even with the opening of these two shelters, the need is still not being met.

“A lot of LGBT youth are ready for transitional housing, but there are a proportion of people who are not ready,” he said. “They need access to an emergency bed right then and there; they don’t have time to apply.”

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Written by Catherine Phillips