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South Bay supes call for LGBT shelter

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Santa Clara County<br>Supervisor Cindy Chavez. Photo: Courtesy Cindy Chavez.
Santa Clara County
Supervisor Cindy Chavez. Photo: Courtesy Cindy Chavez.  

Santa Clara County supervisors are hoping to establish either a shelter for LGBTQ people or one that is welcoming specifically to homeless transgender youth.

The idea derived from a recent series of hearings held by the county's Board of Supervisors to discuss the needs of different communities in the South Bay. Following the November election of Republican President Donald Trump, who's filled his administration with anti-LGBT people, the county held hearings to examine the impact on LGBTs, women, people of color, and immigrants.

Different panels were assembled from the communities, and that included trans people. Supervisor Cindy Chavez said one issue that was "really powerful" for her was the "high number" of young people "who are kicked out of their homes when they come out."

The listening sessions highlighted for her that "if you're transgender, there's no safe shelter for you to be in," Chavez said.

Working with Board President Dave Cortese, Chavez said the lawmakers "put forward this request to have staff take a look at this and come back to us quickly to help us understand the very best way we can address it."

Lance Moore, who organizes the South Bay's annual Transgender Day of Visibility event, told the Bay Area Reporter there is "a real need for a trans shelter" in Santa Clara County.

"I know two trans men who need services, and have nowhere to go (perceiving a men's shelter as inherently dangerous to someone who hasn't had top surgery, as an example)," Moore wrote in an emailed reply. "Being trans adds a huge stress on top of the already frightening stress of having nowhere to go."

Gabrielle Antolovich, who's president of San Jose's Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center, said there is need for not just having a shelter, but for a "one-stop shopping place" that takes a "holistic approach" and offers assistance related to employment and other services.

The DeFrank offers support groups and similar activities, but "We're not a service organization, so we refer people to different services we know are LGBTQ friendly," Antolovich said. "We do see the need for qualified people to work with people who are homeless, or on the verge of homelessness," among others.

What's available now is "a piece here and a piece there," said Antolovich, so the center is working to expand LGBTQ friendly services that are available.

"I think that different service organizations have been given funding to be LGBT- specific and welcoming, and that is OK, but that's not one-stop shopping," she said.

Prior to the board hearings, Chavez said she had believed the county was welcoming already to LGBTQ individuals. It has long funded LGBT services and two years ago created the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Affairs.

"I was surprised that we were not welcoming enough," said Chavez, adding that the county having "such a vulnerable population that doesn't feel safe is a huge concern of mine, and I think of many in our community."

There's no timeline yet for opening an LGBTQ shelter, but Chavez said, "I want to make sure we're responding to the people who are the most vulnerable as quickly as we can."

The next step is for county staff to bring "some assessment" of possibilities to the board "in late May or early June," she said.

County staff will examine options that could include buying a house or working with an existing shelter. At this point it is unclear if the shelter would be welcoming to LGBTQs generally or trans-specific.

County leaders will be engaging with the local LGBT community in order to make that determination, said Chavez. The community members would have the "say so in what the space looks like and what it feels like," she said.

It's not known what the project would cost, or where such a site could be established.

"That one is far in the future," said Chavez, noting the answers would depend on whether the shelter went into a new space or one the county already owns.

 

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