The CEO of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare admits the organization has not been "receptive" or a "safe space" for transgender people who are seeking care and support.
"There has been experiences here where someone who has been identifying as a male has been forced into the female care stream or the other way around," said Janice Kaffer. "Either of those aren't necessarily appropriate for the individual and how they wish to seek care."
Her comments come as the Welcome Centre for Women reports assisting dozens of transgender people seeking support.
In one week, the centre took in five people who identify as transgender, including a transgender man who also approached the Welcome Centre after having a negative experience at other shelters.
The Welcome Centre provided him with an off-site accommodation through its partnership with W.E. Trans Support, an organization aimed at helping transgender people in Windsor-Essex.
"What we're hearing people say is that they didn't feel they had hope before and now that they feel that there's safe places for them to go, share their story, stabilize and figure out how to move forward in their lives," said Jayce Carver, executive director of the group.
Developing trust and a sense of safety
The Welcome Centre for Women established a partnership with the W.E. Trans Support last year. Since then, more people who identify as transgender have been coming to the centre for shelter.
"It's not that they increased in the homeless population. They were always there. They are now finally feeling safe and comfortable accessing our service," explained Lady Laforet, executive director of the Welcome Centre for Women and Families.
Much of the increase is due to the uniqueness of the support program — it's the only transgender support organization in the area founded and run by a transgender person.
W.E. Trans also provides different forms of therapy and referral services. Carver said the influx of transgender people seeking assistance is partially due to the partnerships established through those referrals, which have allowed clients to developed trust and a sense of safety.
"An example of that is looking at the forms on intake and making sure the preferred name and legal name are both on the document and that gender identity is an open-ended question so people can identity however they feel when accessing supports," explained Carver.
Hospital staff working with W.E. Trans
Officials at Hôtel-Dieu Grace say they have approached Carver for guidance in making their organization more accepting to the transgender community. Kaffer, who is now on Windsor Pride's board of directors, added the organization is taking steps to educate staff.
"We're meeting with Jayce and some members of her team to really take a look at some of our practices, some of our policies," she said. "How do we respect the rights of every individual who seeks care to make sure we're dealing with them and their needs in an appropriate and culturally sensitive fashion?"
While the Welcome Centre for Women has seen more transgender people seeking care, Kaffer says Hôtel-Dieu Grace has not. She admits the organization has not been tracking that very well.
"We're working on changing that,' said Kaffer.
"It's difficult to challenge yourself and your own privilege." - Lady Laforet, executive director of the Welcome Centre for Women and Families.
Right now, W.E. Trans has 35 active files, the most it's ever had since the program began August 2017. That success has drawn interest from people in other countries inquiring about the work the organization does.
"The word is spreading quite wide. We're even getting messages from other countries just for support online or through the 1-800 number," Carver said.
The increase in transgender individuals seeking shelter support has been a learning experience for staff at the Welcome Centre for Women, according to Laforet.
"It's difficult to challenge yourself and your own privilege," she explained. "To sit down with the staff as they encounter things that they're encountering for the first time as they learn about properties of gender pronouns and what changes are needed on forms and how to best support a population, that hadn't come forward previously."
Support for those who need it
Laforet describes the experience as a "crash course" because so many transgender people have come to the shelter in a short amount of time. She added the organization relies heavily on the partnership with Carver and W.E. Trans Support.
"We urge other service providers to reach out to us to form some kind of partnership in order to make sure trans-identifed individuals in the Windsor-Essex area are getting the supports they need," said Carver.