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New centre in Oliver aims to support queer, trans youth in Edmonton

Click to play video 'New centre in Oliver aims to support queer, trans youth in Edmonton' New centre in Oliver aims to support queer, trans youth in Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: A queer and trans youth support centre held its grand opening in Edmonton's Oliver neighbourhood on Monday. Nightwatch reporter Sarah Komadina explains what it means for those who access its services.

A queer and trans youth support centre held its grand opening in Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood on Monday.

The facility, called OUTpost, is an initiative of the CHEW (community, health, empowerment and wellness) Project, which describes itself as a community-based initiative that offers “front-line service provision, resources and education for LGBTQ2SA+ youth and young adults facing barriers.”

Corey Wyness, the co-ordinator of the CHEW project, said the centre will work with young people and offer them resources as they grapple with issues like health, violence, poverty, homelessness, substance use and sexual exploitation.

“We decided to create a safe place for them to come and kind of have home — find hope, get off the street and hopefully, find some healing,” he said.

READ MORE: Transgender Edmonton teen calls on all shelters to adopt LGBTQ guidelines

Watch below: (From Sept. 14, 2017) An Edmonton-area transgender teen who has spent time living on the streets and in shelters is calling on every shelter and housing program to adopt LGBTQ guidelines. Kendra Slugoski reports.

Click to play video 'Transgender teen from Edmonton calls on housing programs to adopt LGBTQ guidelines' Transgender teen from Edmonton calls on housing programs to adopt LGBTQ guidelines
Transgender teen from Edmonton calls on housing programs to adopt LGBTQ guidelines

The CHEW Project is a program that is part of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. It receives core funding through Alberta Children’s Services and also gets money through donations.

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Wyness said the CHEW Project started with a 300-square-foot office in 2014, which it quickly outgrew.

“It just didn’t work anymore,” he said. “There was no place for the kids to lie down — they couldn’t watch TV or eat.”

According to Wyness, the new space came together after CHEW started a GoFundMe campaign. He added that various groups and people also undertook their own fundraising efforts to help make OUTpost a reality.

“It was amazing how generous Edmontonians were,” he said. “It was because of them that this place opened up.”

He said young people at the centre often have no place to go, sleep on the streets and “have to engage in some sort of survival crime just to get through that night.”

“Our hope is that here’s really going to make a difference for all those youth,” Wyness said.

READ MORE: Alberta transgender youth concerned about safety, violence and discrimination: survey

Wyness said the new centre improves upon the old one because it can better address the demand for its services and offers a space for mental health support.

Connor Sims, who takes on the performance name Chanelle Couture when in drag, said he attended Monday’s grand opening because he “really believes[s] in the CHEW Project.”
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“I was the first-ever client to access the CHEW Project many years ago,” Sims said. “[It’s] important for me to give back to the program that helped me so much.

“I went from being on the streets and using a lot of drugs and resorting to prostitution to survive to now I’m in a home and I have a wonderful partner and I’m doing what I love to do, raising money in drag.”

Sims said he believes he would be dead if it weren’t for the CHEW Project, and added that “it’s almost unreal” to see the new, larger space that will allow for program expansion.

“A lot of these youth you see that seem strange or seem a little too gay or a little too whatever, they are also people and a lot of them have had a really traumatic experience in life,” he said.

“The challenges that they face every day are a lot greater than your everyday challenges.”

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–With files from Global News’ Sarah Komadina