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Vancouver Island’s 2SLGBTQ+ youth housing project will be the first of its kind in Canada

Jasper Myers

Special for the black press

Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society is working on a new initiative, in partnership with K’ómoks First Nation and the Comox Valley Pride Society, for 2SLGBTQ+ youth who experience or are at risk of homelessness in the Comox Valley.

This initiative is known as Rainbow House or by the Kwak’wala word Gukwas sa Wagalus, and is the first of its kind in the country.

Grant Shilling, an outreach worker with Dawn to Dawn, leads the project, which fills a gap in the social justice system when it comes to 2SLGBTQ+ youth.

“Rainbow House is safe, peer-supported housing for [2SLGBTQ+] young people aged 16 to 26,” Shilling said.

Peer support is support between people who share a common experience or challenge, so in this case members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community who have experienced or faced homelessness.

For members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, shelters are not always the safest places.

“It’s still basically male and female dorms,” ​​Shilling said. “There is no non-binary, there is no acknowledgment of that. The prejudice that still exists in society still exists in shelters.

Youth homelessness statistics show how much something like Rainbow House is needed.

“Young gay men are three times more likely than straight youth to end up homeless,” Shilling said. “A lot of times depending on, when you’re that age, you tell your parents they’re like, ‘OK, you’re going.’ ”

Shilling said 2SLGBTQ+ youth are more likely to end up on the streets than in the shelter system and once someone is displaced from their home, a number of things happen.

“You are vulnerable, you usually drop out of school then, if you drop out of school your opportunities in the future diminish,” Shilling said. “So it creates a chain of unfortunate events that lead to one, safety risks, and two, jeopardizing a young person’s future.”

Rainbow House is currently in development, and Shilling said a fundraising campaign has been launched.

“Our goal is by the fall of next year for it to be operational.”

Shilling said the idea came about after issues arose within the community regarding transphobia and homophobia.

“So I started doing research at that time,” he said. “What are the impacts of hate, transphobia and homophobia on young people, and the numbers were astonishing.”

Based on the research, Shilling said he brought the idea to the board to bridge the service gap.

The goal of Gukwas sa Wagalus is to have 40% indigenous youth represented.

“When you combine someone being queer with being Indigenous, the numbers are astounding,” Shilling said. “In terms of the general population alone, five percent of Vancouver Island is Indigenous. With regard to the homeless population, 40% of the homeless population identifies as Aboriginal.

According to the 2020 Comox Valley point-in-time count, 20% of respondents were Indigenous, compared to 6% of the general population according to the 2016 census. This same PIT count showed that 13% identified as part of the 2SLGBTQ community. +, five of whom identify with trans experiences.

PIT counts are also described as undercounts due to the difficulty in finding people experiencing homelessness and their willingness to respond.

For Shilling, it’s not just about shelter for people.

“Homelessness is a social justice issue, it’s not charity,” Shilling said. “It’s recognizing that people have unequal opportunities and privileges, and that this impacts their outcomes and their future.”

The idea of ​​Rainbow House is that it will be a shared house with each bedroom having its own bathroom, shared kitchen, shared living space, shared outdoor space and a peer support worker .

As for the response so far, Shilling said he has received support and he thinks it is starting to open people’s eyes to the numbers and the challenges young people face.

“We had a number of donations,” he said. “First Community Credit Union stepped up with a grant to help us get started.

“What has been most gratifying has been the response from people affected by it,” he said.

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