Noting an urgent need, Toronto’s 519 Community Centre partnered with stakeholders and formed The FTM Safer Shelter Project. This community-based research project explored and documented issues of homelessness and shelter access affecting FTMs in the Greater Toronto Area with the aim to improve access to safe shelter facilities for FTMs.
Qualitative interviews were conducted with 18 FTMs who had experienced homelessness and 20 service providers within the shelter system. These interviews revealed that the overwhelming factors contributing to their experiences of homelessness and poverty include: loss of family at a young age, histories of abuse and violence, mental health issues, discrimination and marginalization specific to their lives as FTMs in a transphobic society.
Most FTMs who were homeless actively avoided the shelter system, choosing instead to sleep outside, couch surf, use substandard housing or the drop-in services of shelters without actually staying in them. These were all seen as preferable options to staying in a men’s shelter because of real fears of violence, and were also preferable to using a woman’s shelter due to a fear that their male identity and personal dignity would be undermined. In both situations, FTMs witnessed and/or experienced policies and practices that were degrading to them.
“…I don’t know where I would go if I was homeless. I don’t really fit. I feel totally screwed.” – FTM interviewee
The ultimate goals of this project were to document the experiences, needs and concerns of FTMs in Toronto at risk for homelessness, to document the input, feedback and concerns of stakeholders within the shelter system, to develop a collaborative project that would facilitate dialogue between all stakeholders to strategize and identify achievable solutions to the challenges that FTMs face in the shelter system, to build community-based research capacity within FTM communities, and to dramatically improve access to safer shelter for FTMs in Toronto.
The resulting report, released in 2008, is an important contribution to the growing body of knowledge regarding equitable access to services for transgender people.
More information can be found on the website of the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based non-profit and non-partisan research and policy institute.