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Newmarket may be home to first supportive housing for LGBTQ2S youth

July 13, 2020

Home similar to Toronto’s Sprott House to service teens and young adults in York Region, South Simcoe

Jul 13, 2020 by Kim Zarzour

It’s tough being young and homeless; tougher still if you’re LGBTQ2S, and if you’re in York Region, you may face it tougher than most.

That’s why Michael Braithwaite, CEO of Blue Door, has embarked on a plan to provide supportive housing in the region for youth who are LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit).

Braithwaite says those who work with at-risk youth have known for years that this group of teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable, and recent research now backs it up.

In one of the first studies to explore LGBTQ2S homelessness in suburban and semi-rural areas, scientist and lead researcher Alex Abramovich found 77 per cent said they’d overdosed in the past year, 74 per cent self-harmed and 45 per cent said they were victims of violence.

“The data speaks volumes,” Braithwaite said. “This has been a big gap in the region. Now that we have the data, it’s time to take action.”

The first step, he said, is to find a home that is centrally located and easily accessible — ideally Newmarket — to provide safety and support, he said.

Similar transitional housing support services is offered at Sprott House in Toronto.

The report, “Understanding LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in York Region,” showed most support services are in Richmond Hill, difficult to access for those in the less populated north end of the region, leading many to Toronto.

“It’s crazy they have to leave the region to get housing support,” Braithwaite said. “They have to leave whatever contacts they may have. They should be able to stay in their community like anyone else.”.

Newmarket realtor Wasim Jarrah is helping search for property that is both affordable and near public transit.

“We all need to be part of the solution to create affordable housing options for all, especially those less fortunate and that have fallen on hard times,” Jarrah said. “I am thankful to be playing a small role in that process.”

The LGBTQ2S home will be funded with help from the P & L Odette Charitable Foundation, a private foundation headquartered in Toronto. 

President Lou Odette, who took over the foundation created by his parents, said his focus is to support charities doing innovative work in the area of homelessness but are “cash-limited.” Blue Door’s initiatives fit the bill, he said.

Odette granted Blue Door $330,000 each year for three years for several housing programs. 

“We figured the best way was to support small charities and fund them for a number of years, as a more long-term relationship. If you’re doing anything good or innovative one year is hardly enough to get it off the ground.”

The home, which Braithwaite hopes will open in September, will have space for two to four people from York or Simcoe regions and will provide semi-independent living, with a trained staff person on site during the day, and supportive programming to help them with employment, family reconnection, long-term housing or education issues.

“Many of these youth suffered a lot of drama, rejection and violence,” Braithwaite said. They could benefit from virtual psychotherapy … The No. 1 thing is we want them to feel safe.”