Nova Scotia

Two-spirit alliance spearheading new housing project in Halifax

The Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance has secured government funding for a housing project and community hub. The founders of the organization say it will be transformational for two-spirit people in Halifax.

Founders of Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance say housing is a challenge for the community

A person sits at a kitchen counter in their house.
John R. Sylliboy, the co-founder and executive director of the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance, said finding safe and affordable housing can be difficult for two-spirit people. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

A two-spirit advocacy organization has secured government funding to build and operate a transitional housing project in Halifax.

The project is spearheaded by the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance, which represents two-spirit people across the Wabanaki region, including the Atlantic provinces and parts of the northeast United States.

Two-spirit is a term that encompasses Indigenous perspectives around gender and sexuality, intertwined with spirituality and culture.

John R. Sylliboy, who uses the gender-neutral Mi'kmaw pronoun nek'm, is the organization's co-founder and executive director.

Sylliboy surveyed the two-spirit community in the region and found that housing was a major concern. Nearly 70 per cent of the people surveyed reported they were also concerned about the rise in family or domestic violence since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

"It showed that there was a need for safe spaces, safe homes and affordable housing," Sylliboy said.

The Halifax Regional Municipality is also facing a housing crisis, with a one per cent vacancy rate as of last fall and a growing population of people experiencing homelessness.

Sylliboy didn't share specifics about how much funding has been secured and what governmental body it's coming from because details are still being hammered out.

But Sylliboy hopes there could be 8-12 units for two-spirit people to stay while they find a permanent home. The building would also function as the alliance's headquarters and a community hub for two-spirit people in the area.

"That space would be extremely important. It would be our own two-spirit space where we could call it not only our home but our place of operation, but our place that's safe to produce what we need as two-spirit people."

A safe place

Calendula Sack has seen for herself how difficult it can be to find housing in Halifax.

She's two-spirit L'nu and Cree from Sipekne'katik First Nation. She also works for The Youth Project, an organization that supports two-spirit and LGBTQ young people in Nova Scotia. 

Sack said the crossroads of being Indigenous and two-spirit means there are added barriers to finding appropriate housing.

"All the stereotypes that kind of exist around Indigenous people make it hard for us to enter into spaces," she said. "And that was the sort of thing that I've had to navigate around when looking for housing, and it can be really tricky and disheartening."

A young woman in a colourful dress stands in a park.
Calendula Sack said the new housing project would make a big difference in the lives of two-spirit people in Halifax. (Submitted by Calendula Sack)

Sack said having a housing space and community hub operated by the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance would be transformative.

"Knowing that there's a community, like a room full of people who sort of share my belief system and my values and also my identity, I think that is going to sort of exist to let people know that there is a safe space for them."

Tuma Young, a celebrated two-spirit Mi'kmaw lawyer and advocate from Membertou, is the other co-founder of the alliance. 

Young said priority for housing assistance often goes to families, but two-spirit people are often single or don't have children.

Young has seen many young two-spirit folks struggle to find a stable living situation, but the new housing project and community hub can change that.

"It means access to culture. It means access to basically a community and access to assistance and help in whatever form, fashion that we can provide," Young said. 

"We must never stop working towards ensuring that everyone's voice is lifted and that everyone who needs a house or home has one."

The next step for the project is finding land in Halifax to build the centre. Sylliboy has been working with various government and private partners to help make that happen.

A person wearing a bright red and rainbow top and a beaded necklace smiles and stands in a park.
Tuma Young is a two-spirit lawyer and advocate who also co-founded the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"The irony doesn't escape me that we're asking for land," Sylliboy said.

The final plan for the project is due for October of this year, and the alliance hopes to open its doors by 2026. Sylliboy can't wait for that day.

"It's a home, it's a place of sharing, it's a place of gathering and it's a place of providing security for people to feel safe in their home situations."


Victoria Welland is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. You can reach her at

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