News / Edmonton

Edmonton group raising funds for LGBTQ youth shelter

The head of SAFQEY says there is still a major gap in services for homeless, queer youth.

The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

The head of an organization struggling to raise money for housing for LGBTQ youth says despite recent gains when it comes to rights, essential services are still lacking.

“Until our most vulnerable — queer youth — are taken care of, we haven’t done anything,” said Sam Nels, president of Safe Accommodations for Queer Edmonton Youth, or SAFQEY.

The group is holding a comedy/drag show this Saturday, called Homeless not Hopeless, and recently launched a Gofundme campaign to raise money for a pilot project to house homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ.

Queer youth are massively overrepresented in the homeless population, often driven to the streets because of family conflict. They’re estimated to make up anywhere from 25 to 40 per cent of the approximately 65,000 homeless youth in Canada.

Yet Nels, a social worker, said they’re often reluctant to go to shelters, where they may face discrimination from other residents or may be uncomfortable with the way sleeping quarters separate based on gender.

Nels said despite growing awareness of LGBTQ issues, many people don’t realize the way homelessness disproportionately affects queer youth, making fundraising challenging.

For more than a year, the group has been raising money for a house with full time staff. Nels estimates they need at least $100,000 to get started, and they’re currently at just $13,000.

Last year, Toronto starting funding shelter beds for LGBTQ youth, but they are the only city in Canada to do so.

“We are one of the most progressive countries in the world, and one of the leaders on LGBTQ issues, yet for us this is still brand new,” he said.

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