By Stephanie Swensrude
It’s hard enough to live on the streets in Edmonton, and 2SLGBTQ+ people can have a harder time finding safe shelter. The CHEW Project wants to change that.
Around twenty queer teens visit the CHEW Project OUTpost on a regular basis. It is a place to shower, eat, and nap, as well as play board games, video games, or make art.
“We created this space where they can have a home,” said director Corey Wyness. “They can have a space of community and belonging.”
The project was born in 2014 and originally focused on providing sexual health information to queer youth facing barriers. Wyness realized that these young people were also struggling with housing, substance use, and mental health. They expanded to offering outreach and opened the OUTpost on Jasper Ave and 117 St. in March 2020.
“This space was created from the voices of the youth. They told us what they wanted, what they needed,” said Wyness.
Queer youth, for the most part, do not feel safe in conventional shelters. They might not have their correct pronouns used, or they might be attacked for being visibly queer. Wyness said this can be from other community members and staff members alike.
“They can’t thrive in those spaces because they’re living in fear,” he said. “So they float on the street.”
According to Western University’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children, 2SLGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented in the homeless population. Twenty-five to 40 per-cent of homeless youth are 2SLGBTQ+, while only making up around five to ten per-cent of the general population.
Family conflict is the most common path to homelessness for all youth, regardless of gender and sexual identity. When a young person comes out to their family, they may be rejected and told they are no longer welcome in the family.
They are not safe at home, and they might not be safe in a shelter. Wyness has eyes on opening a full shelter.
“We [could] have that safety all the way through the night,” he said.
Wyness said that they are open to donations of clothing and cash, as their funding was cut at the beginning of the pandemic. He also said if someone in the 2SLGBTQ+ community is in need of support to come down.
“If people need help with getting food… please come see us,” Wyness said.