Peer Support Space to open Florida’s first LGBTQ-focused respite

Peer Support Space was launched in 2019 by Yasmin Flasterstein and Dandelion Hill as a way to help those in marginalized communities, who have experienced harm from the mental health care system, by offering non-clinical support and resources from individuals who have shared lived experiences in mental illness, substance misuse challenges, neurodivergence, disability, grief, trauma and other obstacles to mental wellness. The nonprofit organization is 100% peer led and focuses on those communities traditionally underserved in mental health care.

“Dandelion and I first worked in response to the Pulse tragedy, and it was really highlighted through that how mental health resources are traditionally inaccessible unless you’re affluent, and even then, they cater predominantly to white, cisgender, able-bodied people,” Flasterstein says. “We had to find counselors that were trauma informed and experienced working not just with LGBTQ+ communities, but also Hispanic communities and Black communities. It was really hard to find and the resources just didn’t exist.”

Flasterstein points out that even when they were able to locate counselors, people from marginalized communities were not using them.

“There was a lot of history of distrust using resources within those communities for really understandable reasons,” she says. “So they did what most people do when systems fail them, they turned to each other. Which informally is peer services.”

Flasterstein then learned about a more formal peer recovery movement happening in other states.

“It took these traditional mental health services and really centered them on those not usually centered, those who have gone through the trauma,” she says. “Nobody understands a community like the community itself.”

Flasterstein then reached back out to Hill, who had over a decade of experience in peer services, with the idea to start a new organization focused on peer-led recovery.

“I was just like ‘I have an idea. I have no plan and no funding but do you want to work on it full-time?’ And I’m so grateful that they said yes,” she says.

Peer support has been a part of mental health care and substance misuse for years, usually in the form of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery and more, but peer recovery expands on that idea.

“Quite literally, a peer is just someone who has something in common with you. People helping people is as old as time,” Flasterstein says. “But within the modern peer recovery movement it does come with training approved by the Florida Certification Board called Certified Recovery Peer Specialist.”

According to Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all, peer support specialists have been shown to Improve quality of life, improve engagement and satisfaction with services and supports, improve whole health including chronic conditions, decrease hospitalizations and inpatient days, and reduce the overall cost of services.

“I have my Master’s in social work,” Hill says, “and I’ve had so many experiences where I was supporting somebody but noticed people turning toward each other. So when I sat down with folks from a place of lived experience — I’m also a domestic violence survivor — when I took my therapist hat off and actually just sat with people and was vulnerable and authentic, it cultivated a sense of community and healing that I didn’t see when I was in clinical spaces.”

Both Hill and Flasterstein say that they have had negative experiences with the clinical health system that have really solidified for them the importance of peer-led care.

“In 2017, I experienced back-to-back traumas, and my experiences left me with so much anger toward the mental health system, so peer recovery finally allowed me to channel that anger into a solution that cost very little overall compared to traditional mental health services,” Flasterstein says.

“Personally, I’ve been traumatized by the clinical health system,” Hill says. “As a survivor of domestic violence there’s a lot of misconceptions about survivors. A lot of victim blaming happens in the treatment modalities, so I really found a lot of solace and comfort and healing through connecting with other survivors and that really set the framework for how I wanted to do care work moving forward. Not from a place of authority or hierarchy, but from a place of where we all have aspects of our identity and lived experiences that can connect us and that we can use as conduits to help us heal together.”

Peer Support Space offers one-on-one peer support as well as holds community events and daily online gatherings. In Feb. 2020, the nonprofit opened a drop-in center in Osceola County that not only offered its peer support services but also offered training for anyone who wanted to become a peer support specialist.

“Along with the state certified training, we also created our own Peer Support Space training, which is called Holding Space,” Flasterstein says. “It is different from traditional peer trainings in that it was curated by queer, trans, people of color, Asian and autistic adults; communities that aren’t really centered in the traditional training.”

Holding Space teaches peer support specialists how to set boundaries, what to do if somebody is expressing suicidality, how to work from a place of mutuality or nonjudgement, how to gently redirect something and more.

“We really created it in a peer-led process where we brought together about 50 peer supporters and for over a year we would meet multiple times a month,” Flasterstein says. “We continually, as we talk about different topics, add to this Holding Space guide which is a living, breathing document of people from underserved communities saying this is how we want to hold space for each other.”

After having their drop-in center open for just and month, a world health crisis had them close it down.

“We opened and saw more than 70 people in that month,” Hill says, “so we knew the need was there. Then history happened and in March 2020 we realized we have to shut this down because it is no longer responsible to be convening in person.”

Peer Support Space shut their doors and started with all virtual services.

“At the time, we didn’t know how long it would have to go on,” Hill says. “We started virtual in response to COVID but what we learned is that this is an accessible resource to our disabled comrades, to queers living in rural areas where they are not connected to an LGBT Center or community at all, for people who are closeted. We now have friends in 22 countries.”

As the state began opening back up, Peer Support Space realized, while there are many benefits in having virtual services, there are benefits lost in not having in-person access for those in need. That’s when they started to look into a peer respite.

“So I think it’s a really novel concept for our area, and for Florida, but it’s actually something that has been very successful nationally which is wonderful because then we have all of these wonderful mentors and resources to look toward in other states, and that’s how we’ve developed this space and how it would look like,” Hill says.

A peer respite is “a voluntary, short-term, overnight program that provides community-based, non-clinical crisis support to help people find new understanding and ways to move forward. It operates 24 hours per day in a homelike environment,” according to, a resource page dedicated to informing people about peer respites in the U.S. There are currently peer respites in 14 states, with only one in Florida. None are currently queer-led and focused.

“Quite literally, the word respite means a break from hardship,” Flasterstein says. “There are many types of respites, a peer-led respite tends to be more focused on mental health and is led for and by peers, so it’s staffed by people with lived experience versus clinicians.”

Andres Acosta, who has been a part of Peer Support Space as a board member since 2020 and has worked with several Orlando advocacy organizations including Contigo Fund and Maven Leadership Collective, came onboard as Peer Support Space’s director of respite operations.

“When I started doing advocacy work in the community, I felt like I had this split of who I was,” Acosta says. “This put together person that is doing all these great things, and then this person that is constantly in and out of crisis.”

In December, Acosta had a moment of crisis that led to him leaving his job and going to a mental health facility.

“So I went in voluntarily, but once I signed those papers, even when I was out of crisis, I was stuck there,” Acosta says. “You end up being put in a room that is just concrete and you for 72 hours, and they’re just staring at you like you’re this specimen. It’s like the combination of feeling like a criminal and at the same time like you did something wrong just by being there. Anything you ask and anything you do, you’re being noncompliant. There has never been a time when I’ve been in a mental hospital where I’m like ‘thank god I don’t have access to my life.’”

Acosta says what did help was his support system around him.

“Having a network of people that can take care of you is important. If it wasn’t for my mom and dad, I would have never gotten through those periods of my life. They were the ones that basically had to pick up the brunt of it,” he says. “When those times came up, it would have helped if there was a place where I could go when I was in crisis, and still retain my autonomy. I think that’s the biggest thing, this idea of how I want to still be a person, even when I’m in crisis. That’s my reason for why I needed to be here. That’s what this respite is going to be.”

“When someone experiences crisis, I don’t know about you but if my rights are taken away, I am hospitalized and I can’t leave, I might lose my job, if you have children your custody can be compromised — which is a very real reality for caregivers that isn’t often talked about — and so these stressors get stacked on you,” Hill says. “On top of already not being well, now you are kind of losing your funding, you could lose your home, your job, perhaps custody, and that’s perpetuating the issue. So having an alternative option where I can focus on me and still work, and still keep my housing and make sure my rent is being paid. Some people’s rights are completely taken away, and they are infantilized and treated poorly. The minute you say you’re in crisis, you just lose all that autonomy and it’s really dehumanizing.”

The Peer Support Space Respite, which is expected to open by the end of the year in Orlando’s SoDo District, will be a three-bedroom space that anyone 18 and older experiencing a crisis can stay for up to seven days.

“It is totally free of charge,” Flasterstein says, “and while it is open to anyone, we are focusing on centering around communities that are not normally centered.”

The space will include a living room, a game room, a meditation garden, a garden for plants, a food pantry and an art pantry. It will also be staffed with specialists who understand what you are going through.

“You can be surrounded by people that have been there before and feel less isolated with whatever you’re going through, and we’ve all been at a point in our lives where we just needed to get away from home for a little bit,” Flasterstein says. “And sometimes that means staring at a wall for three days. Which if I was in a traditional mental health clinic, I’d be noncompliant if I didn’t go to group. But here people can come and stare at a wall, or they can socialize, they can partake in our activities, our field trips, our workshops, or they can just meet their needs whatever that looks like. But it’s being able to go somewhere and keep the autonomy of your decisions. You’re not handed a treatment plan; you’re just supported in whatever day-to-day healing looks like for you.”

While stays at the respite are limited to seven days, that renews each month.

“Recovery is nonlinear, our lives are nonlinear,” Flasterstein says.

Peer Support Space will also offer external resources for those who wish to continue their care outside of what is offered at the respite.

“Your time here is whatever you want to make it,” Hill says. “It could be ‘I really need some downtime to focus on myself, be in a cozy space, connect with others if I want to, have peer support, which is really just having someone to connect to, who empathizes and cares, have a reset and go back to my day to day.’ We can also connect folks to our group services, our one-to-one, so we’re not just like ‘you stay for a week and then you’re out the door.’ We continue that care and that becomes a part of your care routine if that’s helpful for you.”

“What we are currently working on is building those wraparound services,” Acosta says. “As a mental health organization, we understand that we cannot address every single thing that needs to be addressed for people experiencing a mental health crisis, so having those partnerships will be important. Once you come in here, you are able to have that space where you get one-to-one peer support, and we are being very intentional that once you come here you are in the Peer Support Space nest, if you will. We want you to know that when you come here, we know we are not the ‘end all, be all’ in services. So we will be completing a comprehensive guide that people can use and see what resources are around them.”

In the coming weeks, Peer Support Space will be collecting community input on the respite’s official name. They also currently have a Respite Creation Survey circulating on their social media looking for community feedback on all aspects of the respite, from how it operates and what wellness means to you to what personal comforts you have and what failures you see in the current health care system.

“We are really trying to make a space people can be proud to stay at,” Flasterstein says. “We are working hard to make sure as we renovate the space that nothing feels sterile. That it feels homey. We want people to walk in and feel like this is not traditional mental health services and also hopefully feel like there is a community of people who may not necessarily know them but genuinely care about them.”

For more information on peer-led support services, what they are and how they work, visit, and For more information on peer respites in the U.S., go to

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