Town Hall Meeting on Homelessness within the Transgender Population

Town Hall Meeting on Homelessness within the Transgender Population

Owen Smith. Photo: Clayton Conn
Owen Smith. Photo: Clayton Conn

For thirteen years, the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) has been commemorated both to honor those who have died at the hands of anti-trans hatred and to bring visibility to lives that are so often forgotten. On November 20, Baltimore gathered in memorial for TDOR.

On November 19, Baltimore also had its first Transgender Day of Celebration (TDOC). This celebration brought positive visibility to the trans-community. TDOC was a space for the community, and allies, to collaboratively envision future realities, educate one another, and to support each other in becoming activists. These exercises in empowerment happened in various ways from watching a trans-positive PSA, participating in an Anti-Oppression Training, and various workshops. TDOC ended with the Town Hall Meeting: “Homelessness and Transgender Communities, Part 2”. (Referencing July's Town Hall as Part 1)

Homeless in Baltimore

Recently, Baltimore City introduced a Ten-Year Plan to end homelessness; entitled “The Journey Home”. This plan intends to combat homelessness through ensuring affordable housing, comprehensive healthcare, sufficient incomes, and comprehensive preventive and emergency services. In a city with thousands of abandoned homes, there are also thousands living homeless. As of the last census, over 4,000 individuals stated that they experience homelessness.

On November 19, 2011, over 300 advocates to fight homelessness had their second annual sleep-out action: "A Bench is Not a Bed". This action was meant to stimulate conversation on how communities can collaboratively combat homelessness. The organizing group was granted a permit from 6 pm to 9 pm. surprisingly, this permit was not extended through the night. Shortly after 9 pm, the police forcefully removed the demonstrators.

On the city's “Journey Home” website, they ask the community to “do their part”. In a Baltimore Sun article, organizer - Lisa Klingenmaier, writes, “ … the way city officials (through the police force) responded to our presence sends the message that the city does not welcome the help of students, advocates and people affected by homelessness... our voices were silenced.”

This past summer, the city opened its first year-round 24/7 shelter: Housing and Resource Center (HRC). The shelter is meant to replace Code Blue. Code Blue had become notorious for its shockingly deplorable conditions and alleged abusive staff. HRC houses a hundred fewer occupants than Code Blue, at 250 per night. 175 of HRC's beds are allocated for males. 75 of those beds are earmarked for women. Eight beds in the shelter have been set aside, “with transgender people in mind”, according to JHR's (Jobs – Housing- Recovery) Gabby Knighton. However, those beds are first come, first serve. It is unclear if trans-individuals ever actually utilize the rooms.

On November 29th, 2011, The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland (ACLU) and the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) had its first hearing against the city on a, “... resolution calling for an investigation of gender discrimination at the Baltimore City homeless shelter.”

ACLU and HPRP were asked to testify in response to a letter they wrote to the mayor, “ ...asking for immediate intervention to remedy the City’s policy of providing overflow shelter beds only to men... the City’s policy unlawfully discriminates against women in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment to the Maryland Constitution.” (ACLU Press Release, 11/29/11)

This case is not only in reference to there being less allotted beds for women than for men, but is also responding to the fact that there isn't an overflow plan for women. Yet, there is an overflow plan for men. When all 175 male beds are filled, they transport an additional 100 men to a nearby shelter. When the female beds are filled, women are turned away.

On November 1, HRC added an additional 20 female beds. There is still no female overflow plan.

There is no visible discussion on how to ensure more beds for transgender individuals.

The Town Hall

Town Hall Meeting “Homelessness and Transgender Communities, Part 1” took place on June 14, 2011. Despite some anticipated flaws, it was hailed as an important step forward in galvanizing the city on trans-homelessness issues.

The 2010 National Transgender Discrimination Survey reports that discrimination affects every trans-person. Through analyzing how discrimination enacts on the trans-body, the survey relates that one of the all-too-frequent realized results is the chronic lack of housing.

TDOC's Town Hall Meeting: “Homeless and Transgender Communities, Part 2” was meant to continue the conversation; as well as to incite the trans-community into action. Transgender Response Team (TRT) members organized and facilitated the meeting. The panel included Kate Briddell, the Director of Homeless Services, Kevin Cleary, Deputy Director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, Mary Slicher, the Executive Director of Project PLASE, and Veronica Thomas from the Investigative Division of the Office of Civil Rights & Wage Enforcement.

The panel initiated the dialogue by stating their hope for the meeting to be done in good faith and towards productive outcomes. The crowd first heard from the panel participants, both in ways of introduction and in discussion about hopes and concerns. The second part of the meeting was Q&A.

The forum traversed diverse topics. However, the discussion solely stayed within the confines of analyzing situations where one is already experiencing homelessness, rather than conceptualizing the end of homelessness. Nevertheless, with half of surveyed trans-folks reporting that they were either verbally, physically, or sexually harassed, while they were in the care of homeless service providers. This is if they weren't turned away entirely, it appears appropriate to address reality. At various points, the panelists expressed gratitude for these conversations. They stated that it is important for providers to have a good rapport with the trans-community because they are admittedly unaware of what the community needs and how to accurately address homelessness in transgender populations.

When the audience asked what providers were doing to eradicate their in-house discrimination,  panelists spoke of building bridges through employing more transgender workers, the need for cultural sensitivity trainings, being openly unsure of many solutions, looking for community-brought suggestions, and posting nondiscrimination policies all throughout shelters.

On the question of trans-specific outreach, panelists discussed the need for more public forums and that they have no outreach resources; that they need community support.

When asked how providers were making their services more trans-friendly and safe, panelists discussed the potential to restructure facilities to single or double bedrooms to ensure more privacy, change intake forms to offer more gender identifications, and fund more community-initiated trans-positive programs.

As the meeting wrapped, there were no actionable items stated or specific goals set to execute. Yet, some of the trans-community, and allies, had directly engaged with homeless service providers on critical issues, in implementable and public ways.

As people were leaving, one participant remarked, “Two years ago, I don't think this conversation would've happened. And I'm grateful to the organizers, to the providers, to the community, for bringing us to a place, where we could all participate and hold each other accountable. Because, while we are talking about specifically trans-issues, which, I'm mean, I'm trans, and I believe that these issues desperately need attention; yet, we're talking about human issues. Now, before another Town Hall happens, I hope we've all made some real change. This winter, I don't want anyone to be without a roof or a bed.”



Originally Published: Baltimore OUTloud

Photo of Corey Reidy

Corey Reidy has been an Indyreader collective member since the start of 2009. And.. she adores it with all her heart. When Reidy isn't editing, writing, interviewing, or other Indyreader-centric organizing, she works to do other forms of radical activism -- including, but not limited to, organizing/being a board member of Hollaback! Baltimore. If she's not organizing, Reidy is most likely reading, biking, or practicing/studying yoga (of which she adores and will 100% go to bat to defend and promote).