“You know rats run around here during the night, don’t you?” So said one whose dim smirk failed to conceal his pretense of pleasure at viewing another’s suffering. An old transwoman bent over in silence, clasping her only worldly possessions, breathing into her coat as best as she could against the blast of the chilly night air. She avoided the predators who solicited her for public sex and the drug dealers who told her that she would come to them for “help” sooner or later. Sleep fled from her throughout the hours, and when her bladder filled she could not always empty it in the proper way because the public toilets had malfunctioned or had closed altogether. All the while, she rehearsed her few available options while waiting for her name to rise on a list for shelter. How long could her meager savings hold? Would she die soon in the bitter wind?
She was by no means the only one. Worse yet, the grim reality faced by trans youth are even more dangerous than that of the elder transwoman precisely because of the greater number of predators inclined to exploit youth and the lack of youth’s internal defenses to confront them. The elders may become resigned to fate. But the youth shouldn’t have to be so resigned. More than for trans elders, there’s a great need to intervene for trans youth.
According to the 2015 U.S Transgender Survey (USTS), 30% of transpeople experience homelessness. 12% become homeless specifically because of their trans status. Of those who do become homeless 23% avoid staying in a shelter because of mistreatment in shelters. 70% of those who stay in shelters report being harassed, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, or kicked out because of being transgender.1
Given the estimate of 1.4 million transpeople in the United States as the Williams Institute estimated, 30% translates to 420,000 transpeople who have been homeless at some time in their lives. Some have been able to rebound. Some remain locked in extreme poverty.2
But one admitted limitation to the data provided by the USTS is that the survey was not tailored to trans youth. Those under 18 at the time of the survey were excluded because of “risk factors and recommendations associated with research involving minors” including “requirements for parental/guardian consent that would have impacted the survey’s scope and content.” As a result, the USTS could not measure the current state of homelessness among trans youth, projecting likelihoods from adult data.3
Daniel Funke cites the following statistics in the Los Angeles Times:
“According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there are 3,447 homeless young people ages 18-24 in Los Angeles County, excluding Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach. A 2012 study conducted by the Williams Institute found that about 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, which would put L.A.’s LGBT homeless youth population at about 1,378.”4
That’s a lot of LGBT young adults, many of which we can expect to be transgender, and that says nothing about runaway trans teens who have yet to reach adult status. But the gravity of the crisis of homelessness can’t be measured in terms of numbers.
One must spend time with the homeless to begin to grasp the loss to all of humanity in terms of denied opportunity and the real drain upon local, regional, and national resources. It’s a serious mistake to think of homelessness in terms of not having shelter. Homelessness is far more severe than that. It represents the full scale rupture of human relationships with ties to family and friends being virtually dissolved. In this respect, crises turn into tragedies more often than most willingly admit.
We cannot presume today that if one becomes homeless it’s because that person must be lazy, irresponsible with money, mentally ill, alcoholic, or a drug abuser. Today’s homeless often don’t fit those stereotypes.
Today’s homeless include those whose livelihoods had been destroyed by automation and the greed and intolerance displayed by corporations who then falsely deny having any motives besides benevolence. Today’s homeless, more often than not, have professions and many in fact are working homeless who have been denied the means to feed a family and pay exorbitant rents. Some homeless even have advanced degrees.5
The USTS stated that 40% of their trans respondents had families who were either neutral or not supportive of the fact they were transgender. One in 10 reported a family member had turned violent towards them because they were transgender and 15% ran away from home or were expelled because they were transgender. 50% of respondents who were out to their family experienced at least 1 form of rejection from the immediate family in which they were raised, including spouse/partner and/or children because they were transgender. Of those who faced homelessness 40% had experienced family rejection compared to 22% of those who had not.6
But homeless trans youth pose a special problem. Some of these have either run away from abusive households and distrust those in authority to do anything but incarcerate them in environments at least as abusive. Some had been expelled from their homes because of their gender identity, often by families’ whose supposed religiosities cover up a nasty truth: that they’re more interested in what fellow parishioners think of them than the actual well being of their trans child.
While homeless adults have difficulty obtaining work for lack of a residence and may not be able to pay rent with the wages they do earn, the plight of trans minors necessarily becomes more dire because such must obtain work permits to obtain any employment. An attempt to obtain such a permit exposes a teen to law enforcement, leaving them without any other option except through the underground economy.
One organization, the Forty to None Project has taken a 3-pronged approach to address the needs of trans homeless, with emphasis upon prevention. These objectives include:
- Promotion of acceptance of LGBT youth through outreach to families, youth, and communities. The Forty to None Project collaborates with universities to examine root causes and to develop effective strategies.
- Targeted family assessment to explore options for reunification and rebuilding family relationships.
- Affirming and competent care. Based upon research by the Forty to None Project, the Palette Fund, and the Williams Institute 75% of homeless LGBT youth access mainstream shelter services. Not all programs understand how to work with all youth.7
Many more organizations seek to help homeless youth including San Francisco’s Joan’s House, building shelter with intentions of becoming a network reaching beyond the Bay Area to specifically cater to the needs of homeless transpeople.
But society, on the most part, hates the homeless. People fear homeless people and impose stigma based upon false presumptions so that others learn to fear and stigmatize them in similar ways. The Policy Advocacy Clinic of Berkeley Law School noted an expansion of local ordinances directed specifically against homeless people in 4 genera:
“(1) standing, sitting, and resting in public places (daytime activities);
(2) sleeping, camping, and lodging in public places, including in vehicles (nighttime activities);
(3) begging and panhandling; and
(4) food sharing with people who are homeless.”8
Social service programs also too often prove meaningless. An example of a meaningless program ran for years in Orange County CA. One seeking assistance can subsist for one day at a time. The county may bus that person to a jobsite where they can work for that subsistence. That person may not be paid with money apart from the food provided by the county and nothing could be applied to lodging. Orange County only succeeded in perpetuating a system of slavery which could only be broken by a decided effort to leave for good.9
Today’s ineffectiveness of Orange County’s social services can be measured in the proliferation of a homeless tent city that has taken over the mall of the Civic Center. Despite opening a vacated bus terminal area for homeless, the Civic Center tent city remains and grows.10
So long as this state of affairs exists, perpetuated by slander and stigma, citizens of a locale are not entitled to any claim that they care about the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” That also includes stigmatizing homeless minorities like transpeople.
What, then, is the trans community to do?
Of transpeople, 16% own their own homes. It’s a number far less than the U.S. population at 63%. Home ownership does reflect a level of prosperity. Some have the capacity to foster trans youth, a demographic that has long been difficult to place.11
But the majority of transpeople with homes rent. Most leases greatly restrict the number of people who can occupy a dwelling. Landlords typically do not permit extra people of any age.
As homeowners go, having a home doesn’t reflect a significantly greater level of caring. Homes in which transpeople gather too often dissolve within a matter of months simply because its household members fail to get along. It’s too often not an environment suitable for the “affirming and competent care” sought by the Forty to None Project or the stability demanded by the social workers responsible for screening candidates for foster care.
It’s the first line against trans homelessness the transpeople must address. Those who are able and who have awakened to the ramifications of their own need to transition owe the same to others as a moral obligation. Trans youth especially are the future of us all. They deserve the kindheartedness of another by whom they can have a place to sleep and escape the cruelty of societal stigma and law enforcement in many locales. It behooves transpeople who are able to foster trans kids to develop character suitable for helping such youth. That requires more than love. It requires toughness and patience, drawing upon that which they had learned themselves in the harshness the trans experience so often imposes.
But there’s a hitch in legislation now underway in various states. South Dakota’s Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law a permitting rejection of LGBT peoples in adoption or foster services on the basis of “religious freedom.”12 On March 16 Georgia’s Senate Judiciary Committee has also added to HB 159 a provision to refuse cooperation with LGBT foster parents.13 Laws of this nature facilitate open societal warfare against sexual minorities, especially the trans demographic.
Tying the hands of transpeople this way only can deprive trans youth from the future of their choosing and subverts them to the clutches of Evangelical cults whose intentions are to indoctrinate and control, “justifying” force and employing “conversion therapy.”
In such a societal milieu, if transpeople cannot take in trans youth, then our allies need to seriously consider what they need to do to help. After all, the trans community doesn’t just consist of transpeople. It consists of supportive family members and friends, all of whom potentially become targets of abuse in the name of religion or pretense of what “everybody else in the world does” regardless of the falseness of their claims.
Of course, the same religio-political entities that seek to tie the hands of transpeople would just as readily tie the hands of anyone who supports us sooner or later. If indeed the United States becomes the theocratic oppressor that certain minority religious groups have taught for decades that it would, then the time available for transpeople and allies to help may be limited to a few years.
After such a limitation, action can become heroic indeed as laws continue to tighten and strangle the moral fiber of the caring. It’s the kind of heroism not unlike that of Corrie Ten Boom when her family hid Jewish people from Nazi intruders, chronicled in the book The Hiding Place.14
But most should not need to go that far if they act quickly. Many organizations exist to help train foster parents including those specifically designed for the needs of LGBT people. RaiseAChild is one such organization in Los Angeles and provides mentoring.15 AdoptUSKids has a program for LGBT youth and foster care.16 The Human Rights Campaign also directs potential foster parents of LGBT youth in various areas of the United States.17
That training is essential because youth in foster care often have moved from one home to the next and some who have been in the system for years often have developed hardened defenses that would prevent them from opening up to a foster parent. Some have settled into disruptive and even dangerous behaviors. One may foster over a matter of days or weeks. One may foster over the course of years. A foster parent needs to network with others for mentoring because such must take care of themselves if they can properly care for discarded youth.
Would you miss such an opportunity if you have the means to help a discarded trans youth? If there’s anything one can do to help, why not do it now? And if you decide within yourself that you should do this, please take the next step in educating yourself concerning their needs and obtain proper training as a foster parent, that you can be sure you can provide an environment preferable to the cold, the pimps, and the rats.
Contact Forty to None Project at (212) 461-4401. Inmail may be sent at https://truecolorsfund.org/contact-us/.
Contact RaiseAChild at (323) 417-1440 or at email@example.com.
Contact AdoptUSKids at 888-200-4005 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact the Human Rights Campaign toll free at 800-777-4723 to reach the front desk for inquiries.
- James, Sandy E.; Herman, Jody L.; Rankin, Susan; Keisling, Mara; Mottet, Lisa; and Anafi, Ma’ayan. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, Full Report (2016) National Center for Transgender Equality, p. 13.
- Flores, Andrew; Herman, Jody L.; Gates, Gary J.; and Brown, Taylor N.T. How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States (June 2016) Web: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/how-many-adults-identify-as-transgender-in-the-united-states/. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- Op cit, p. 23.
- Funke, Daniel. Transgender and homeless: How a 23-year-old is trying to get back on her feet (August 8, 2016) Web: Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-transgender-homeless-youth-20160806-snap-story.html . Retrieved March 5, 2017.
- Weinberger, Daniel. The Causes of Homelessness in America (July 26, 1999) Web: Ethics of Development in a Global Environment (EDGE): https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/soc_sec/hcauses.htm. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- James, Herman, Rankin, Kiesling, Mottet, and Anafi; p. 65.
- Shelton, Jama. Ending LGBT Youth Homelessness: Forty to None Project’s Multi-pronged Approach (May 22, 2013) Web: Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jama-shelton/lgbt-youth-homelessness-i_b_5991742.html . Retrieved March 5, 2017.
- (n.a.) California’s New Vagrancy Laws: The Growing Enactment and Enforcement of Anti-Homeless Laws in the Golden State (June 2016) Web: Policy Advocacy Clinic, Berkeley Law, University of California. http://wraphome.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/NVL-Update-2016_Final.pdf , p. 2. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- This according to a video shown to the author by Orange County Social Services in 2004.
- As witnessed by the author.
- James, Herman, Rankin, Kiesling, Mottet, and Anafi; p. 176.
- Silverstein, Jason. South Dakota law allows child service agencies to reject LGBT clients(March 12, 2017) Web: New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/south-dakota-law-lgbt-child-services-denial-article-1.2995885 . Retrieved March 13, 2017.
- (n.a.) URGENT: Adoption Bill Amended to Push Anti-LGBT Discrimination in Georgia (Marvh 16, 2017) Web: Georgia Unites Against Discrimination: http://www.georgiaunites.org/urgent-adoption-bill-amended-to-push-anti-lgbt-discrimination-in-georgia/ . Retrieved March 17, 2017.
- Ten Boom, Corrie; Sherrill, Elizabeth; Sherrill, Lonnie DuPont. The Hiding Place (1915) Baker Publishing Group. ISBN-13: 9780800796273. Web: Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hiding-place-corrie-ten-boom/1116615493. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
- (n.a.) RaiseAChild (n.d.) Website: https://raiseachild.org/we-find-parents. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
- (n.a.) AdoptUSKids (n.d.) Website: http://adoptuskids.org/adoption-and-foster-care/overview/who-can-adopt-foster . Retrieved March 12, 2017.
- (n.a.) Human Rights Campaign (n.d.) Website: http://www.hrc.org/resources/is-foster-parenting-for-you . Retrieved March 12, 2017.