Grant Shilling, left, accepts a $5,000 cheque from Chris Higgins of First Credit Union. The donation is for the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society’s Rainbow House project. Photo by Catriona De La Torre

Grant Shilling, left, accepts a $5,000 cheque from Chris Higgins of First Credit Union. The donation is for the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society’s Rainbow House project. Photo by Catriona De La Torre

Society initiates ground-breaking project for LGBTQ2S+ youth in the Comox Valley

Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society is initiating a peer supported, safe housing project for LGBTQ2S+ youth, 16 to 28 years. Rainbow House will offer comfortable housing, and specialized supports to meet specific needs.

“LGBTQ2S+ youth experience higher levels of homelessness than their peers,” says Grant Shilling, Dawn to Dawn outreach worker and community facilitator. He notes that LGBTQ2S+ youth are two to three times more likely to be homeless than non-LGBTQ2S+ youth.

On-site supports at Rainbow House will be provided by a live-in peer member of the LGBTQ2S+ community. Additional supports may be provided through community outreach workers.

Last spring, the Pride Society of the Comox Valley and partner groups hosted a virtual dialogue for queer youth to share experiences, opinions and ideas about making change in the community.

“They told us they want to exist where they cannot be just ‘tolerated’ or ‘accepted,’ but where they can celebrate their identities,” Pride Society co-chair Chris Bate said. “The Dawn to Dawn Rainbow House would provide a much-needed housing opportunity for queer youth to do just that.”

Many sexual and gender diverse youth grow up in homes with family members who are not accepting, supportive and affirming. Oftentimes, coming out to family leads to homelessness.

“I have had the privilege of having a supportive family so I’ve never experienced homelessness,” says Comox Valley resident Mackai Sharp, 17, who identifies as bisexual. “However, I am familiar with many youth who have come out to me confidentially as it is not safe for them to come out publicly while living at home.”

Some youth may run away from home because of abuse or discrimination from family members. Others may be thrown out. Shilling is aware of three local youth forced to leave home due to lack of acceptance by their parents.

Some LGBTQ2S+ youth end up in protective custody, but often run from those settings as well, back to homelessness. Others will couch surf at a friend’s house, or live rough on the street, or in parks and alleys. Few LGBTQ2S+ youth will choose to seek refuge in the shelter system, where many report discrimination, and feel more vulnerable and unsafe compared to the street.

Youth facing homelessness are often forced to leave the education system in order to survive, which increases LGBTQ2S+ youths’ odds of remaining homeless into adulthood.

Dawn to Dawn will launch a capital campaign, pursue grant opportunities and create fundraising activities. The society has received a $15,000 grant from the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. (SPARC) to engage LGBTQ2S+ youth in the design and implementation of the program.

The project has also received support from K’omoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel.

“Everyone deserves a safe space and to feel acceptance,” Rempel said. “The Rainbow House initiative by Dawn to Dawn in our community is a project that could be life-changing for LGBTQ2S+ youth. Many youth have lost their support systems in coming out. Facing discrimination and marginalization by family and society increases their risk to becoming homeless. Supportive, peer housing can make all the difference in unbelievable ways for these youth. As someone who now identifies as two-spirit, I want to encourage anyone that can be involved, or who can donate or support this project by any means to please do so.”

First Credit Union provided an inaugural donation of $5,000 to the project.

On Saturday, Dec. 18 from 5-11 p.m. in Village Square, Cumberland Village Works presents a fundraiser for Dawn to Dawn and Care-a-van. It features performances by the Kumugwe Dancers, DJ Kookum, Lady K and Re#Sister, and music by Jozy, Aubnoxiou$ and Resonany Dog. Tickets can be purchased online and at the box office at 4 p.m.

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