Get to Know Us: Crystabel Neilson

Crystabel uses her lived experience and advocacy to offer support to LGBT2SQ clients navigating mental health challenges and homelessness.

Crystabel knows the challenges of being transgender. When she transitioned, she lost her job and her apartment. She chose to return to school after finding a transitional housing program. “I wanted to do something meaningful,” she says.  While on a student placement, Crystabel heard about LOFT and its work with members of her community.  She is now a Residential Support Worker at LOFT’s Spencer Supportive Housing.

Spencer Supportive Housing provides assistance to transgender clients with a history of chronic homelessness. It offers a safe space for this socially marginalized and under-served population. LGBT2SQ individuals are over-represented in low-income demographics, in addition to facing higher rates of violence, homelessness, addiction and mental health challenges.

As a Residential Support Worker, Crystabel ensures that her transgender clients have the support they need in order to thrive. “People may think of our work as caretaking, or as part of a self-perpetuating system,” she reflects. “What they don’t see is that the whole process is based on collaboration. We support people by providing them with a safe environment, creating stability. Everything is driven by the client. We’re there to walk alongside them on their journey towards independence and dignity.”

A key factor in the LGBT2SQ experience is the importance of community. “Trans folks often have issues with their families. Trans youth may not feel that their homes are safe and welcoming spaces,” explains Crystabel. “Many places where our clients would normally go to socialize, like drop-in programs and community centres, are now closed. The pandemic has impacted our ability to connect with others and build a community outside of the home.”

Crystabel and her team are working hard to connect their clients with the resources they need. “One of the biggest challenges has been connecting clients with mental health workers,” she says. “The system is swamped. People are having mental health challenges because of the pandemic, and the logistics of medication are challenging. Communicating with a client’s health care team, and the long wait for a follow-up, can be difficult.”

Crystabel remains hopeful. Looking forward to restaurant visits and travel in the future, she relaxes by playing video games, cooking and spending time with her daughter. She believes in the power of education and advocacy to propel change for the trans community. “I’d like to see more being done on a political level, through campaigns promoting diversity and equity,” she explains. “We can’t legislate tolerance and acceptance, so we need to win hearts and minds through education.”

“I know people with amazing talents, skills and a wealth of experience who want nothing more than to contribute to society. They want to fulfil their dreams like everyone else, but are unable to do so because of who they are,” she continues. “That’s why I choose to be visible as a trans woman. I’m hoping that people will see that we are a part of what makes society stronger.”