Homeless for the Holidays

It is becoming that time of year again.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, etc…which, if you have a place to eat and money to purchase food, actually might mean something.  But not all of us are so lucky.

What I am reminded of each year are the times when I myself was homeless…in Seattle and San Francisco and Tuscon and Tyler, TX…and in order to have a holiday meal, had to turn to a mission of some sort, being the only types of homeless shelter available at the time.

But times have changed, a bit.  There are now non-religiously affiliated shelters in many locales.

Not that the religious ones were all that bad…as long as one remembered the main credo:  

You have to listen to the Word if you want to eat the bird.

It is in one of these missions that I finally learned that I could no longer call myself a Christian.  The answers to the questions I put to the preacher were just insufficient for me.

Sample of shelter life

Be that as it may, I still remember being homeless this time of the year.  Sleeping in a cardboard box under a highway overpass in order to keep from freezing to death.  On one occasion even trading access to my body for a meal and a warm bed…not that I knew I was doing that.

But…anything to get out of the cold…I guess.

Recently I read some encouraging news.  New York City has instituted a pilot policy which allows transpeople to choose the gender-segregated homeless facility that is right for us.  If only more places would follow suit…

The article focuses on transwoman Tiffany Jones, who aged out of foster care this year…now old enough to become a homeless adult.  When she showed up at a men’s homeless shelter, she was pleasantly surprised to be asked if she was transgender and would prefer to live in a women’s shelter.

There’s still some negative attention surrounding living with women. I had a couple fights when I first came in but not anymore. I had to prove a point that just because I’m transgender there’s no way of beating me. But if I were in the men’s shelter I’d be beaten up or raped.

The pilot policy allows gender non-conforming people to choose to stay in the shelter of the gender they identify with, regardless of the state of their legal gender or state of their transition (Ms. Jones is legally male but is taking female hormones).

The policy, a four year pilot which was put in place in January, 2006…and which has been continued since the pilot expired, includes these points:

  • staff will address individuals with names, titles and other terms appropriate to their gender identity
  • staff at Intake/Shelter assignments will receive training on diversity, transgender and intersex issues
  • The National Transgender Discrimination Survey‘s report on housing showed that of the 6,560 people surveyed nationwide, 19 percent of survey participants have experienced homelessness.

    Many transgender people have less of a social safety net. They are less likely to have support from parents, who might kick their nonconforming children out of their homes. In addition, job-related discrimination leads to unemployment. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey (pdf) found 97 percent of the 6,560 people surveyed faced job-related discrimination, and the survey respondents faced unemployment at double the rate of the general population.

    According to the survey, of the 19% of transpeople who experienced homelessness

    29 percent were denied access to a shelter, 42 percent were “forced to live as the wrong gender to be allowed to stay in a shelter” and 47 percent decided to leave a shelter because of poor treatment.  Twenty-five percent have been physically assaulted or attacked by resident or staff and 22 percent have been sexually assaulted by residents or staff.

    Transfolk are not the only people who have noticed the problem.

    Some cities say you have to live with people of the gender of your birth, which flies in the face of a very certain preference, a comfort level and rightness factor.  The way they address the problem is not addressing it.

    –Neil Donovan, executive director of National Coalition for the Homeless

    This concurs with a recent tactic of the homophobic/transphobic rightwing religious outlook that transpeople and transsexuality don’t actually exist. They are just viewed as evidence of sick minds and/or the work of the devil.

    New York is not alone in giving respect to transpeople. Other cities with civilized policies are San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and Sacramento. Unfortunately, we live many more places than those cities, putting us at extreme risk of abuse.

    Homeless Services and advocates of the transgender community worked together to ensure development of a fair and progressive policy for transgender clients which is today fully implemented and successfully assisting those transgender clients who come to Homeless Services in need.

    –DHS spokeswoman Heather Janik.

    All reports are that violence and complaints about harassment are down.

    It is noted, however, that men’s shelters are still considered unsafe for both transwomen and transmen. So it has not been uncommon for transmen to choose to stay in women’s shelters in NYC.

    But shelter is only one need. Services for transgender adults are lacking.

    The LGBT support groups Queers for Economic Justice run at three shelters-which allow residents to discuss their problems in a safe space-are the only structured support in place for this population. Case managers in shelters are often unaware of the specific health needs and discrimination [transgender people] face.

    The article mentions that Q4EJ’s Jay Toole is trying to set up a non-profit organiztion to start up a transitional shelter for homeless LGBT adults. If you would like to lend a hand…out of holiday spirit or for any reason, here is a link to get you started.

    Lost in the Crowd

    –A film about homeless transgender youth

    Maybe we could do something for the adults as well. It could happen. Are you willing to help?

    If you would like to help address this sort of issue in your own communities, I’d suggest that a good place to start is contacting your local shelters. Be vociferous. Yell loudly if you have to.


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    • Robyn on December 18, 2010 at 00:01

    …so I’m getting close to my last essay for awhile.

  1. when u drop out of high school parents can be pretty reactionary.

    Shelters fucking suck and are run like prisons, possibly even worse.  There’s always a racket shaking you down for your best valuables for protection that isn’t always guaranteed while you sleep.

    Churches let you sleep there on the steps but God’s charity has an end time of 5am before NYPD starts poking you with a baton to “get the fuck up”.

    Reason being that the church goers don’t like to be reminded about “the least of their brothers” when going in to pray.  Church is a family place and we can’t have the riff raff by the doors.

    Pew filling before WWJD.

    Gawd wood want it that way….

    • Robyn on December 18, 2010 at 00:54

    …available in Orange.

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