Annex sanctuary opens for LGBTQ2S youth

Area transitional house for homeless the first of its kind in Toronto and largest in Canada


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L–R: Kate Miller, Louise Smith and Dr. Alex Abramovich stand outside the YMCA Sprott House

Toronto’s first transitional housing program for LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirited) youth has opened in the Annex. 

On Feb. 1, the three-storey red-brick building at 21 Walmer Rd. called the YMCA Sprott House will open its doors to LGBTQ2S youth between the ages of 16 and 25. 

The program has been 10 years in the making for Alex Abramovich, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and a transgender man, who has been a forerunner in LGBTQ2S-related research and advocacy in Toronto. According to Abramovich, becoming homeless is easier than most people think, with identity-based family conflict being the major pathway that leads to homelessness.

“My own coming out experience made me understand what a connection there is between coming out and homelessness,” he said.

As a result of Toronto’s stellar reputation as a positive environment for the gay and transgender community, Abramovich said many LGBTQ2S youth are drawn to the city in the hopes of finding support.

“Unfortunately, oftentimes that is not what happens. I’ve heard all sorts of stories of people facing that same type of rejection they’ve faced in their homes in the shelter system,” he said.

The city’s 2013 Street Needs Assessment study revealed that  approximately 20 per cent of homeless youth in Toronto’s shelter system identify as LGBTQ. Abramovich said he believes the number to be closer to 40 per cent. 

Often faced with rampant homophobic and transphobic violence in city shelters, Abramovich said many youth choose not to disclose their sexual identity, and some avoid shelters altogether.

Sprott House director Kate Miller said the program will provide safe, semi-private living quarters for its 25 users for up to one year, with two staff members on site around the clock. 

In 2015, the city allocated $600,000 in annualized funding to allow for up to 54 beds for the LGBTQ2S community in Toronto. A second transition house was also approved and is expected to open in Ward 27 in 2017.

Ward 20 councillor Joe Cressy grew up on Walmer Road and said he is very proud of the community for welcoming the new facility with open arms, but he noted there is still “a lot more to do” citywide. 

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