January 22, 2018
The LGBTQ2S communities are as diverse as the general Canadian population in their experiences of poverty and homelessness. However, due to additional social determinants and accessibility limitations, they remain over-represented in the population struggling with these issues. The 519 is committed to providing responsive direct services to address poverty and homelessness within the LGBTQ2S communities with a holistic approach based on access and empowerment.
Our Sunday Drop-in program provides several meals or snacks each week to hundreds of community members. The programs focus on providing a safe space for LGBTQ2S people who may be experiencing poverty, homelessness, under-housing or social isolation. Services provided to the drop-in participants include referrals, counselling, skill development, arts and recreation, and volunteer opportunities.
Stephen is very busy working in the kitchen during the weekly Sunday Drop-in program. A program participant and a volunteer, he wouldn’t miss it for the world and commutes every weekend from Oshawa to attend.
When his best friend died by suicide two years ago, Stephen decided to make a donation to The 519 in his honour. He believes a place like The 519 could have saved his friend’s life by providing direct services and community support. Stephen has also sought help for himself through our trauma-informed counselling services to cope with a newly discovered reality – that he is HIV positive.
I don’t want to identify as just someone who is HIV positive. I want to reintegrate as a person with strength, capabilities and dreams.
His volunteer work at the Sunday Drop-in is his way of giving back to the community that provides him support. He is working with our new housing-support worker to find a home in Toronto so he can easily drop in every week.
I was at The 519 the day of the Orlando massacre. I remember how all of us came together, wounded together. That was a sad but powerful moment for me when I knew I am in the right place.
Lawrence turns on the radio and sits at the head of the table with his friends at the Sunday Drop-in each week. He has only one rule for his table:
No swearing, only queering.
A professional cook, Lawrence was diagnosed with schizophrenia and battled drug dependency; as a result he was unable to continue working. He had also not come out to friends and family and needed to find a supportive community to help him through such trying times. He came to The 519 Sunday Drop-in program 15 years ago and has been a regular attendee ever since. He also participates in our programs for older LGBTQ folks and is proud to have been drug-free for five years.
There is one person on my table who cries every week. We offer each other comfort and share a healthy meal together, and it feels better.
Love, safety and personal growth are the reasons Colleen comes to the Sunday Drop-in program. And for the delicious food, of course!
After struggling with abusive relationships and depression, Colleen found herself homeless. Today when she looks back at that time, she realizes how much the experience of living in a shelter changed her.
I learned a lot about myself. I realized I used to look down on homeless people before. Now I know anyone could be in that situation. The experience taught me humility and acceptance.
Today Colleen has access to housing, but her connection to Toronto’s streets and the people living there is stronger than ever. At the Sunday Drop-in program, she often keeps busy socializing and offering support and advice to other participants. She proudly calls herself a street mom.