Homelessness within the LGBTQ+ community is not uncommon. People may find it easier to generalize the experience the queer homeless have rather than viewing the issue from the perspectives of the subcommunities, for example, the transgender community. However, being able to do so is crucial when it comes to internalizing that various people experience homelessness in different ways and that taking an individual’s unique experience into account is key to helping them out more effectively in the long-run.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at higher risk of being homeless due to a variety of reasons concerning the discrimination and mistreatment that they experience on a regular basis. However, looking at transgender people in the homeless community specifically, their reasons are more attached to nuances surrounding their gender identities.
To begin with, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. One of the reasons for this is due to gender-based violence that they went through in previous homes. According to an assessment done at San Francisco State University surrounding transgender women of color and immigrants, 26% of transgender survey participants who are homeless lost housing due to domestic violence. In addition, 10% of the survey participants lost housing due to family members not accepting their gender identity.
Aside from at home, transgender people experience gender-based discrimination in their workplace. While searching for work, transgender people are often relegated to lower-wage jobs, which ultimately are not enough to afford secure housing. Within these jobs, gender-based discrimination, despite the federal laws put into place to prevent it from happening, pave the way for transgender employees to be unfairly laid off, or force them to quit their jobs leaving them without any source of income to pay for housing. Furthermore, transgender people of color often experience dangerous levels of extreme povery that prevent them from obtaining safe affordable housing.
On top of this, even with a stable job, transgender people are susceptible to encountering legal barriers concerning their gender identity that also prevent them from obtaining secure housing. Transgender people may have applications denied for housing opportunities and given no explanation as to why. According to a 2017 study done by Diane K. Levy, transgender people who disclosed their gender were less likely to be told about available rental options. Additionally, during the housing application process, transgender people run into issues concerning their dead names which results in them being unable to move forward when their current names do not match their legal names.
Like the rest of the homeless community, transgender people who are homeless have been to shelters. According to a 2015 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, 41.4% of transgender people who sought shelter were denied it, 29.8% were openly denied because of their gender expression, and 44% reported experiencing mistreatment at a shelter within the past year.
Numerous testimonials from anonymous transgender individuals describe the gender-based discrimination and mistreatment that they have experienced at shelters emphasizing the system’s failure to offer safe temporary housing for all people who are homeless.
“In my experience in shelters, many people want to victimize me, for example harassing me in the bathroom. They tell me I have to go to the men’s bathroom and not the women’s. This is hate-based violence,” an anonymous individual reported.
Most of these gender-based altercations at shelters lead to the unnecessary involvement of the carceral system, resulting in the unfair incarceration of transgender people further keeping them from safe housing. For this reason, there is less trust in the shelter staff within the transgender community.
Regarding this issue , another individual reported, “Without staff that’s dedicated, it’s a dangerous place inside. I know people who sleep outside because they can’t take abuse from staff members.” According to the SFSU needs assessment mentioned previously, 52% of transgender shelter users had been asked to leave or forced to leave shelter, and 26% said there was no difference in how safe they felt staying in shelters opposed to the streets.
Despite this horrific reality, the issues that transgender people experience in regards to homelessness are failed to be addressed because of general lack of awareness. Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued guidance referencing the Fair Housing Act, stronger explicit legal protection from gender identity discrimination should be put in place at the state and local levels, and easier access to affordable more streamline legal name change processes.
Furthermore, support services (physical health, mental health, etc.) must be made more accessible to members of the transgender community experiencing homelessness. Finally, the transgender community must be more involved in the conversation, especially those experiencing homelessness themselves. Only when we start to take into consideration the individuality of a person’s experience will we be able to tackle the issue of homelessness at its root even if it doesn’t exist in another person’s life.