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ROAD HOME: INNclusion place to call home for 2SLGBTQ+ youth

'Steeped in stigma and shame, homelessness is isolating and deeply lonely. For 2SLGBTQ+ youth, being without a home and safe support is life-threatening,' says Blue Door CEO in his monthly column

Editor's Note: Please be advised this article contains mention of self-harm and suicide. 

In the spring of 2017, our daughter, Irene, told us at the dinner table that she was going out on her first official date.

“Amazing,” we said, “give us the details.”

Our daughter responded, “Well... her name is…”

She watched intently for our reaction.

I smiled and said, “That is awesome, be safe and be home by 11.”

For my partner, Sylvia, and I, the gender of who she wanted to date was a non-issue. Like most parents, we just want our children to be happy.

Unfortunately, for many children and adults across York Region, Canada, and around the world, their coming out stories are much different, filled with anger, rejection, fear, and identity-based discrimination and abuse.

Being a teenager is hard as you navigate through high school, nagging parents, social media and dating. It is even harder for teens who fear coming out to their friends and family, and therefore cannot be and express their true selves.

York Region is fortunate to have some amazing supports for 2SLGBTQ+ youth. Pflag, CMHA, Family Services, 360kids and, of course, Blue Door, with many more organizations providing great resources and support.

While many school boards have been wonderful in their approach to creating safe and inclusive spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ youth, we still have far to go, as evidenced by the disappointing decision of the York Catholic District School Board to not fly the Pride flag at its head office. Actions speak, and this action tells 2SLGBTQ+ youth that they are not safe, included or welcomed.

Despite all the available support, safe housing is nearly non-existent as York Region and communities across Canada continue to not have adequate supportive, affordable, and accessible options for 2SLGBTQ+ youth.

Without safe housing options, 2SLGBTQ+ youth who leave home to escape abuse and discrimination from their families are forced to sleep rough on the streets.

As a result of ongoing discrimination, 2SLGBTQ+ youth are over represented in youth experiencing homelessness. The 2021 York Region I Count Report, a point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness, found that 27 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness identified with the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

In 2019, Seneca College released a report on 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness in York Region. The report found youth do not feel safe in traditional male or female-divided emergency housing programs and their needs are not being met.

Validating the conclusions of the Seneca College study, Dr. Alex Abramovich, one of the world’s leading voices in 2SLGBTQ+ health and youth homelessness research, along with fellow researcher Nelson Pang from CAMH, shed light on how dire the consequences of homelessness without safe supports are to the health and well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness.

Dr. Abramovich and Pang shared that almost 75 per cenet of youth surveyed reported that they had self-harmed without the intention of suicide in the past year.

1 in 3 had attempted suicide in the past year.

The report made several recommendations, including delivering population-based housing options for 2SLGBTQ+ youth, expanding staff training, and increasing mental health supports.

For more than 30 years, I’ve worked in the housing and homelessness sector with the most amazing teams, with much of that time being dedicated to ending youth homelessness. Lots of great work is being done, but population-specific supports for 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness is still lacking and that has to change.

Not one, but two reports have told us action was needed a long time ago to support 2SLGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.

Working with my incredible team at Blue Door, we decided to take the leap and lead the way in creating a safety net for 2SLGBTQ+ youth to land. With the generous support of the P. & L. Odette Charitable Foundation, Blue Door designed the first and only safe, stable transitional housing for 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness in York Region, INNclusion.

At INNclusion, a youth peer support worker, funded by the Aubrey & Marla Dan Foundation, improves youth’s mental health and helps youth work toward achieving their goals in education, health, housing and employment. The end goal is to help 2SLGBTQ+ youth achieve greater independence, self-sufficiency and long-term housing.

In 2021, the Northpine Foundation stepped up to provide operational and generous capital funding allowing Blue Door to purchase a permanent home for the INNclusion program, helping create program sustainability. The program is run with the assistance of many amazing service and funding partners, creating a truly inclusive and safe place 2SLGBTQ+ youth can call home.

Blue Door is very proud of INNclusion, but, there is still more to be done.

We need to continue to grow this program to provide increased supportive and affordable housing programs for 2SLGBTQ+ youth and add emergency housing options.

Housing for all does not mean housing for some.

It means for “ALL” and that includes the far too many 2SLGBTQ+ youth in need of a safe, affordable, and supportive place to call home.

Together, we can and will do better.

If you are or know of a 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness and in need of housing, please contact Blue Door at 905-989-1015 or visit