“You have to do something! So we did.”
When LOFT Community Services saw the number of transgender clients in their transitional housing balloon from an average of 4 to 14 in 2016, it was evident that a program designed for their specific needs was vital, and the response was the BLOOM project.
“The initial notion was to provide specialized supportive housing where trans people with mental health and addiction issues and histories of homelessness could safely live while they regained their stability and health,” said Jane Corbett, Director of Development at LOFT Community Services, adding that the aim of BLOOM is to help residents “improve their sense of wellbeing and quality of life, in order to re-enter the world as resilient, self-sustaining individuals living as their authentic selves.”
BLOOM focuses on the time of highest vulnerability for their clients, the period of medical transition, providing both safe housing in a non-judgemental environment and access to health services from trans-positive providers.
Community One Foundation recognized the critical services being offered to an underserved community when they selected BLOOM for the 2017 RBC Community Grant, the largest of the Rainbow Grant program, developed in partnership with Royal Bank of Canada. It is open to registered charities for projects that combat sexuality/gender discrimination, foster an atmosphere of respect and acceptance, and support underfunded services for LGBTTIQQ2S individuals and families. It was the first major grant for BLOOM.
“The funds, of course, were enormously helpful in moving forward,” said Corbett. “The recognition was just as important in reinforcing our commitment, and confirming the belief that this service is needed and the right thing to do… we will now be able to show evidence of its effectiveness.”
There has already been a ripple effect from the project, with a positive impact on the network of trans-positive health services in Toronto.
“The success is seen in the way in which the network has grown – there are now 21 partners,” said Corbett, noting that there is a “humility and openness demonstrated by virtually every partner… to learn from our clients and from each other to ensure that their services are as accessible and trans-positive as they, and we, all wish.”
The experience has also evolved the staff’s understanding of the transgender community’s experiences.
“Although everyone felt quite aware of that trans individuals face prejudice and discrimination, the staff involved in this project all report feeling shocked at realizing the full extent of the discrimination experienced by trans people at virtually every turn,” said Corbett. “Staff report a much greater sense of empathy for others, and a deeper understanding of the challenges and obstacles experienced by gender-diverse individuals; a deeper understanding that “transgender” means different things to different people, and that “appropriate” supports are as diverse as the population being served.”
The gains resulting from the project are already surfacing, as Corbett recently received inspiring news from a BLOOM peer support worker.
“One of the younger BLOOM residents has just been accepted into the social work program at a community college,” said Corbett. “We all feel like this is quite amazing that through the challenges of growing up, this young person has been able to maintain their education level well enough to get accepted, and through the transition ahead, they are determined to begin their post-secondary education.”
With the current waitlist of 16 likely to keep growing, Corbett and LOFT are working hard to secure additional housing and continue to improve BLOOM.
“We need at least 10 housing units to achieve the economies of scale that will make this project sustainable for us,” she said, adding that they are also looking at further research into the specific needs of gender-diverse people such as 2-Spirited and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) individuals.
Despite the critical need to expand the project, the depth of its current success is evident to staff just in the simple day-to-day interactions amongst residents.
“They are seeing the BLOOM residents sitting and sharing a meal together, without artifice or personae, no makeup or fancy clothing, but feeling safe and secure enough to share and support each other as their most authentic and vulnerable selves.”