A candidate for Toronto city council is asking for the community's support to help create the city's first homeless shelter for queer youth.
"We know that queer and trans youth who end up homeless very quickly learn that shelters are unsafe places, and it increases their risk of making choices that damage both their physical and emotional well-being," says high school teacher Michael Erickson, who is running in Ward 14 and spearheading the project.
Erickson cites a 2004 study
, which found that 32 percent of homeless youth in Toronto identify as queer.
Some of Erickson's students have been in and out of Toronto's homeless shelters, where they've faced constant physical and verbal harassment for being queer, he says.
"Either their parents kicked them out of the house [because of their sexual or gender identity], or they were experiencing such difficulty or neglect at home that leaving seemed to be the safest option for them, only to end up in shelters where they received either higher or a similar degree of abuse," he says.
Erickson says Canada is behind other countries on this issue and points to the United States, where New York City has several homeless shelters exclusively for queer youth.
"In our Canadian context, we actually focused on increasing the privileges of adults who already were living in safe environments," says Erickson, referring to the fight for legalized same-sex marriage.
Ward 14 candidate Michael Erickson
"Just because somebody can go on a gay cruise doesn't mean we're done meeting the needs and dreams of queer and trans people, and youth especially," he says.
Two weeks ago, Erickson sent a letter to potential supporters and stakeholders asking them to endorse the creation of a safe homeless shelter and transitional housing for queer youth. The project is a core element of Erickson's Youth Action Plan, but by endorsing the project, stakeholders are not automatically endorsing Erickson's candidacy, he says.
In early October, Erickson is planning to release the names of individuals, agencies and organizations who have signed on. He's calling for endorsements in order to raise awareness about the need for the shelter and to demonstrate the diversity of support behind it. He says he's making an appeal to people of all backgrounds and political stripes.
"If we can demonstrate that there are lots of different kinds of people... who all agree this is an essential and crucial project for our city, it helps us later on to keep the momentum going and get funding support from different streams," he says.
Erickson says it's too early to tell where funding for the project will come from and what model the shelter will be based on. He hopes that in the coming months, these kinds of decisions will be made through a series of town-hall meetings, where stakeholders and the community can gather to share ideas.
Erickson estimates that it could be three years before the shelter opens, depending on funding sources.
"I think it's really important that at this stage we realize that there's a dream and we realize that it can become a reality," says Erickson, "and the next stages are coming together to figure out what model will be the best to meet the needs of [queer] youth."
If he's not elected to city council, Erickson says he'll continue to be involved in the project.
To endorse the shelter, send an email to email@example.com.