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ROAD HOME: Need is urgent to support homeless 2SLGBTQ+ youth

July 3, 2024

Posted on: July 3, 2024 Posted by: Michael Braithwaite, Newmarket Today, Original Article

In this month’s column, Blue Door CEO says it is crucial to recognize many 2SLGBTQ+ youth lack a safe place to call home, with more specialized programs needed.

After numerous research reports underscored the limited, unsafe, and unsupportive housing options available to 2SLGBTQ+ youth, Blue Door proudly responded and announced the launch of the INNclusion program in 2021.

As the first initiative of its kind in York Region, INNclusion provides critical support and housing for 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness.

INNclusion offers long-term housing and support to up to five youth, specializing in helping them overcome barriers and maintain independent living. The program integrates best practices from the Housing First approach, housing retention, and a peer support model to empower youth to exit homelessness and achieve self-sufficiency.

The need for a specialized program like INNclusion is urgent.

A 2017 study revealed 2SLGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented among homeless youth, comprising approximately 40 per cent of this population across North America (Abramovich & Shelton, 2017; Abramovich, 2012; Choi et al., 2015).

Recent data from York Region’s Point in Time count showed 10 per cent of survey respondents and 27 per cent of youth (16 to 24) identified as 2SLGBTQ+, compared to only four per cent of the total Canadian population aged 15-plus and five to 10 per cent of Canadian youth identifying as queer.

2SLGBTQ+ youth frequently encounter challenges finding safe and supportive housing, particularly those with multiple marginalized identities who face discrimination, including racism, transphobia, and homophobia (Kinitz et al., 2022; Shelton et al., 2017).

Despite generous initial funding from the Odette Foundation, securing a home for the INNclusion program proved challenging due to the stigma associated with traditional shelters. The team at Blue Door overcame this hurdle with support from the Northpine Foundation, which enabled the purchase of a home in 2022. Additionally, Blue Door’s employment social enterprise, Construct, helped refurbish the basement to create an additional bedroom.

The impact of the INNclusion program on its residents has been profound. One youth shared, “Moving into INNclusion was a breath of fresh air after coming from a different transitional home. I have never stayed in a place that is so gender-affirming and welcoming. It feels like home. The ability to stay for a year or more made me feel safe and allowed me to come out of fight-or-flight mode long enough to start healing and learning how to cope with my mental illnesses.”

Another youth praised the support from the Blue Door team, noting, “The staff are so supportive, providing transportation to errands, the food bank, affirming events, and groceries. They listen to what the house needs are and implement them quickly and with so much support.”

As we celebrate Pride Month and the success of INNclusion, it is crucial to recognize many 2SLGBTQ+ youth still lack a safe place to call home.

Blue Door is committed to providing a variety of housing options and supports, including emergency and permanent housing. Guided by the motto “Nothing for us without us,” Blue Door continually seeks feedback from youth to improve its programs. The journey to provide safe, supportive, and affordable housing for all Canadians continues, and together we can end homelessness.

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Michael Braithwaite is the CEO of Blue Door, host of the housing and homelessness podcast On the Way Home, board chair of the youth homelessness-focused organization A Way Home Canada, and a tireless advocate for people experiencing homelessness.