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Transgender and Homeless:

MTPC and GLAD Distribute Best Practices Guide and Model Policy for Shelters as Winter Approaches

Winter in New England is hard on people without homes, and hard in specific ways for people who are transgender and seeking shelter.  To help shelters better serve transgender guests, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders are making available “Shelter for All Genders,” a best practices guide, accompanied by a model policy that GLAD developed with a shelter in Lynn.

“Shelter for All Genders,” developed by MTPC in December 2013, addresses many issues that shelter staff can find challenging in serving transgender residents: confidentiality, preventing harassment, proper accommodations, intake and screening, health issues, dress codes, and staff training.

“Transgender and gender non-conforming people experience homelessness at extremely high rates compared to other people,” said Mason Dunn, Executive Director of MTPC.  “And then when people seek shelter, the experiences they have often drive them right back out onto the street.”

A 2009 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force showed that 55% of homeless transgender people experience harassment by shelter staff or residents, 29% are turned away altogether, and a troubling 22% experience sexual assault by residents or staff.

A formerly homeless transgender youth that GLAD recounts the treatment that he and others experienced at a Massachusetts shelter, including being misgendered and mocked by staff. You can read his account, and his suggestions for how to improve shelter treatment of transgender people, on GLAD’s blog here.

“Homeless transgender people have the same need for shelter and respect as all homeless people,” said Allison Wright, GLAD staff attorney.  “But they also have specific needs that shelter staff should meet in order to make shelters truly welcoming and comfortable.”

GLAD worked with the Lynn Emergency Shelter on a model policy, which addresses many of the best practices outlined in “Shelter for all Genders,” for example:

  • Training: the shelter will train staff annually on policies and procedures, terminology, and local, state and federal laws protecting transgender people;
  • Respect: Transgender clients will be addressed by their preferred pronoun and name, and will not be turned away because of their appearance or because of conflicting gender markers on legal ID’s;
  • Accommodations: Transgender clients will be housed according to their self-reported gender identity, regardless of appearance or other factors; they will also have access to bathrooms and showers consistent with their gender identity.
  • Freedom from harassment: Shelter staff will not tolerate verbal or physical harassment of any client at the shelter.

According to the Williams Institute, 40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT [Williams Institute, 2012]. The high level of homelessness and insecure housing among transgender people, and in particular young transgender people, is attributable to several factors, including discrimination and family rejection.

“Shelter for All Genders” can be downloaded here. The Lynn Emergency Shelter policy can be downloaded here.

GLAD and MTPC are also making available to shelter staff a training on best practices.  More information can be requested by emailing gladlaw@glad.org, or calling Maryse Pearce at 617-426-1350.