City's shelters to get standards of care
by Seth Hemmelgarn
After years of input by homeless shelter clients, operators, and homeless advocates, the Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 Tuesday, March 25 to adopt a set of standards of care for homeless shelters. Supervisors Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd voted against the measure.
The standards, introduced to the board and sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, address everything from training staff members on how to be sensitive to LGBT issues to making sure bathrooms are stocked with toilet paper.
Ammiano said he's "very proud" of the legislation's passage. He said Mayor Gavin Newsom is supportive of the legislation and implementation should begin "just about immediately." Newsom's office did not provide a comment by press time.
Quintin Mecke of San Francisco's Shelter Monitoring Committee, the group largely responsible for developing the standards, told the Bay Area Reporter the guidelines will hopefully "make a difference in the everyday experience people have in the shelter system."
Mecke, who ran unsuccessfully against Newsom in last year's mayoral race, said that staying in the shelters can be particularly hard for transgender people. He said there have been several cases where staff have told transgender people they need to provide a doctor's note to prove their gender when the person requests a female bunk. He referred to this burden of proof as "humiliating" and "unnecessary."
Larry Brinkin, of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission's LGBT and HIV division, said the commission receives less complaints from transgender people than it used to, after training was offered to shelters. However, he acknowledged complaints might not make it to the commission, since people don't always know with what agency to file them.
Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said the organization hears regularly from transgender people who have difficulty accessing safe shelters. Harassment can come both from staff and other clients, Davis said.
Many transgender people are not able to be safe even within the shelter system, he said. This results in transgender people leaving the shelters without a safe place to stay.
With the help of the San Francisco Bay Guardian , the law center surveyed 194 transgender people in 2006. According to their report, 10 percent self-identified as homeless and another 31 percent lived in unstable situations.
Cecilia Chung, TLC deputy director, said other common problems faced by transgender people in the shelters include wrong pronoun usage and inappropriate shower access.
"We should applaud the city and county of San Francisco in implementing a standard of care for the shelter system," Chung said. However, she noted there's a high turnover rate among shelter staff, so training should be ongoing.
The standards also include providing soap and towels, hand sanitizers and toilet paper, and making sure shelters are cleaned daily. In addition, there should be clean bedding, signs and other written materials should be available in English and Spanish, and a process for dealing with complaints. The San Francisco Department of Public Health will enforce the standards, with fines of up to $1,250 possible.