How many dogs have a transitional housing centre named after them?
In Toronto, probably just one. And, next month, it will open its doors to welcome 16- to 29-year-olds who identify as LGBTIQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, questioning and Two Spirit) and don’t have anywhere else to go.
One of only nine such facilities in the world, what was known at the beginning of construction as Egale Centre is now, officially, Friends of Ruby Home. And Ruby, a 12-year-old golden retriever, is so happy her tail hasn’t stopped wagging since the ribbon cutting.
“Ruby has spent the last three years in our [drop in] space [at 489 Queen St. E.], and she’s helped transform some of [the] youth’s progress in their growth and healing," youth services and housing director Lucy Gallo says. “By connection, relationship, she’s helped youth start counselling – the youth would only do counselling when Ruby was in the room – and she just had this magical touch. And it’s not just about her; we like the idea that a ruby is a precious gem, every ruby is a different shape, different size, so it’s a way of saying ‘We accept you in which ever way you come. We are here for you.’”
And the new centre at 257 Dundas St. E. – which marries an 1870s heritage house and a 1970s apartment building by Jerome Markson – has very different shapes and sizes within it as compared to traditional shelters.
Step inside the front door and one immediately feels a warmth and a welcoming spirit. While this front section of the complex is devoted to small offices, counselling rooms and a large flex-room that can hold anything from board meetings and art classes to life-skills programming, there is a domestic feeling to it all. This, explains architect Paul Dowsett of Sustainable, is no accident: “The wood doors, the wood frames – everything you touch is natural wood – so it’s not institutional, it’s more homey, which is what the youth wanted from the early charrette," he says. "When we get into the residential suites there’s even more wood.”
He’s right: Walk into the domestic wing (where youth will reside for up to a year), and it feels like a well-appointed university dormitory. Here, a hotel-like corridor leads to private rooms with custom, multifunctioning millwork by Yabu Pushelberg that allows occupants to organize different-sized belongings, hang clothing, reheat meals or work or their résumés at a large desk. By removing the sink/vanity from the washroom and asking the kitchen sink to do “double-duty,” says Mr. Dowsett, even more space was saved so that, ultimately, more rooms could be provided.
“It’s also unusual for other transitional houses to have your own room and not have a roommate,” Ms. Gallo says.
“And not shared bathrooms,” Mr. Dowsett says. “The youth really wanted private spaces for themselves; they also wanted control of their own space … every one of these suites is its own self-contained unit, it has its own air system, they have their own thermostat, [and] they have operable windows for ventilation.”
Five rooms have been made fully wheelchair accessible, with electronically opening barn doors into the washroom and two suites have been made double-occupancy. In total, Friends of Ruby can house 33 people.
Things get even better on the second floor. Climb up the “communal stairs,” which sit in the connecting building designed by Sustainable, and one is deposited into a light-filled lounge space – “This is a place for the residents to be themselves; counselling happens downstairs,” Mr. Dowsett says. To one side of a fireplace is a big dining room that connects to a large kitchen.
Long, symmetrical, and with a bold, square range hood punctuating its middle, the room features a long countertop flanked by a fridge and oven on either end. On the tall walls, both communal and private cupboard space has been provided. It’s a glorious space that one can envision will be filled with as much laugher as there will be life-lessons.
“This is actually one of my favourite rooms,” Ms. Gallo says.
On the roof, a condominium-like deck with a barbecue area will provide residents with direct sunshine, while, in the basement, generous light-wells will give ample natural light to the rooms. “When we talk about mental health, these are the things to consider; like, the whole house is lit up,” Ms. Gallo says, her eyes lighting up also. And since Friends of Ruby will be pet-friendly (how could it not be?), there is a large dog-washing station near the basement laundry machines.
If taking two buildings built a hundred years apart and linking them together wasn’t difficult enough (the rainbow fins, which also provide sun-shading, help with that visually), Friends of Ruby also demanded that Sustainable, Daniels Corp. (the builder), and designers Yabu Pushelberg shoehorn dozens of different programs under that new roof – some very private, some very public – while also making the whole thing feel like a real home.
Since 25 per cent to 40 per cent of street-involved youth identify as belonging to the LGBTIQ2S community, the 33 spaces at this home will fill quickly. What’s needed, then, are donations to continue to build more.
“This house is really just a drop in the bucket to what’s needed,” Mr. Dowsett says.
But Ruby herself won’t mind: she’s got enough room in her big ol' doggie heart to love them all.
To make a donation, visit http://friendsofruby.ca/
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