Initiatives in place for unhoused trans individuals in SF

  • by J.L. Odom
  • Wednesday December 27, 2023
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Aubrey Davis works at the Transgender District. Photo: Karen Santos
Aubrey Davis works at the Transgender District. Photo: Karen Santos

It's right around that time for folks to start making their new year's resolutions, with the hope to stick to them — or at least some of them — January 1 through the 365 days that follow.

When it comes to eradicating trans homelessness, the City of San Francisco already has plans in place for 2024, as part of SF Mayor London Breed's $6.5 million-budget initiative to resolve the issue by 2027, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

The effort to address trans homelessness was set in motion in 2023, with the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, the city's Office of Transgender Initiatives, and the Department of Public Health working together to make headway during the initial year of Breed's five-year initiative that she announced in 2022.

Shireen McSpadden, executive director of the Department of Housing and Supportive Services, said progress has been made on the city's transgender housing initiative. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

"Many in our TGNCI communities are currently experiencing violence, houselessness, and critical health needs that require our urgent attention and collaboration through our systems," stated Shireen McSpadden, who is executive director of the DHSH. She was using the acronym for transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people.

In an email to the B.A.R., McSpadden, a bi woman, shared that year one of the initiative involved several components, including conducting an analysis of the current landscape for TGNCI people experiencing homelessness and the organizations that serve them, and issuing $3 million to TGNCI-focused organizations providing housing services to assess organizational capacity needs and accommodate more participants.

"This work is helping us join together to address the immediate issues at hand and create a system that can truly make a long-term impact on the issues faced by TGNCI communities so that homelessness does not have to become a way of life," she stated.

Progress made toward Breed's initiative during 2023 also included selecting two providers to manage a Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool; gathering input from TGNCI youth and providers on the necessary elements of housing units for this population (with referrals to begin in spring 2024); the implementation of cultural humility training for providers in the homelessness response system to improve service delivery to TGNCI people; and the hiring of two behavioral health clinicians at DPH to serve TGNCI youth experiencing, or at-risk of experiencing, homelessness.

"While there is much work ahead, this first year has proven instrumental to develop a strong partnership between city agencies and TGNCI-focused providers, and we are on track to make significant strides in the second year of this initiative," McSpadden shared.

Community-based organizations like the Transgender District and Larkin Street Youth Services are an integral part of the effort through their offering of supportive programs.

"I feel like the new year is coming in strong. Multiple organizations here in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area are restarting and opening up new projects, such as our new program," Aubrey Davis, Transgender District executive associate, said in a phone interview with the B.A.R.

As trans and gender-nonconforming individuals constitute a sizable subset of the unhoused population in the city, the Transgender District has been a key resource for housing and other community-focused programs since its inception in 2017. Its new Rent Stabilization Program is a reinstating of its defunct Housing Opportunities for Trans Tenants (HOTT), the rental subsidy program launched in February 2021 in partnership with Our Trans Home SF and then-SF startup Starcity, which provided designed co-living communities. Starcity was acquired by the New York-based firm Common in June 2021.

"They [Starcity] backed out, so the HOTT program itself got shut down. But the website is still active and people can go and check out all the information that we have on there," said Davis, a woman of trans experience.

The trans district received monetary assistance from the city for its new program, the pilot of which will officially run from January to March, with the larger program launching sometime in March or April. The current allocated funding for the program is $20,000, which benefits four trans individuals, at $5,000 apiece, to keep them stabilized in their homes.

Breonna McCree is co-executive director of the Transgender District. Photo: Breonna McCree  

"We've already started working with two of our Tenderloin residents to keep them stable and in their house, because we want to do our part, as Mayor Breed said, to end trans homelessness. So we thought of some initiatives to keep our trans folks housed to not add to the folks that are already out there on the streets," said Breonna McCree, co-executive director of the Transgender District, in a phone interview.

The program involves working with other organizations, such as the TGI Justice Project, to help with wraparound services "for the folks that fall through the cracks."

"The goal is to keep them in some type of program so that they don't become homeless," added McCree, a woman of trans experience.

"I know Lyon-Martin Community Health Services is also looking into getting a new building to be able to expand and help [with] outreach for the trans and gender-nonconforming folks that are out there and needing more help," said Davis.

The long-standing Lyon-Martin Community Health Services, which provides clinical care to sex workers, TGNCI individuals, and cisgender women, will take over St. James Infirmary's outreach program. St. James announced in August that it was closing, as the B.A.R. .

Lyon-Martin officials did not respond to a request for comment.

On its website, St. James Infirmary lists its official closing date on December 29, along with further information on how its services and programs will continue through other organizations, such as TGIJP, which will oversee the Our Trans Home subsidy program. TGIJP and Our Trans Home did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Another veteran organization, the San Francisco Community Health Center, whose services include the transgender health care program Trans Thrive, will oversee St. James' Taimon Booton Navigation Center, the peer-led housing program for the TGNCI and sex worker communities.

Health center officials did not respond to a request for comment.

And while the Bobbie Jean Baker House, a supportive residence in the Mission that provided rooms and services to TGNCI individuals, is closed as of this year, the former residents have been placed in new homes and are participating in the Our Trans Home subsidy program, as stated on St. James' website.

"I definitely think that within the next year, we should be able to see good changes, positive changes. I'm hoping that more trans folks will be able to find homes, resources, and care," said Davis, who is also on the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives' Trans Advisory Committee.

Health fair coming up
During the piloting of its Rental Stabilization Program, the Transgender District is hosting a TGNC Health and Wellness Fair on January 25 for the local trans and gender-nonconforming community. Partnering with organizations, it aims to get the word out about available resources — housing and otherwise.

January is also when the Transgender District plans to launch the Social Justice Fellowship Program for TGNC individuals, particularly those in the Tenderloin, to gain hard and soft skills for acclimation into job spaces. Participants obtain income to stabilize themselves while taking part in their professional development.

TGNC youth
For trans and gender-nonconforming youth, there's the ongoing efforts of Larkin Street Youth Services to provide housing and other supportive elements, including medical care, food assistance, and employment and education programs.

Sherilyn Adams is CEO of Larkin Street Youth Services. Photo: James Irvine Foundation  

"A high percentage of LGBTQ young people experience homelessness because of family or community rejection. They're not able to stay with their parents, guardians or whoever they were living with or in school or other places where they might be experiencing discrimination or bullying and it may not be a safe place," said Sherilyn Adams, Larkin Street's chief executive officer, in a phone interview.

Larkin Street's Castro Youth Housing Initiative is a scattered site housing program for LGBTQ+ young people who have removed themselves from unsupportive environments and challenging circumstances, Adams noted.

At one point, one of Larkin Street's youth initiative sites was solely for trans youth; the program has since morphed into additional sites and slightly smaller housing units to better accommodate LGBTQ+ youth residents' particular needs and preferences, Adams said.

As Adams, a lesbian, explained, "Depending on the number of trans youth that we have in housing at any one point, then folks can have a little bit more flexibility about if they want to be with all trans youth or if they want to be in a different sort of mix of folks. We have a broader range of housing options with the congregate and scattered sites."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, one feature of Breed's comprehensive plan to end transgender homelessness by 2027 is new permanent, supportive housing for TGNC/LGBTQ+ youth, supported by the Office of Transgender Initiatives (for which the search for a new executive director is underway with Pau Crego officially departing from the role December 15) and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

Adams expressed enthusiasm for the housing initiative and DHSH's outreach to community-based organizations to provide services in line with the end trans homelessness initiative and the corresponding Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool program, which includes the capacity-building grant funding amount of $200,000.

"It's exciting to work toward having a plan, with the mayor's and city's commitment to working to end trans homelessness with very specific projects and the new housing initiative for young people. ... It's been a long time coming and a lot of advocacy," Adams told the B.A.R.

The city's TGNCI-supportive plans in place for housing and other services are in stark contrast to the anti-trans rhetoric throughout the country and a massive anti-trans initiative that is in the signature gathering phase for the November 2024 ballot in California. As the B.A.R. reported, the measure backed by the Protect Kids of California Act of 2024 would ban gender-affirming care for minors, block trans women and girls from participating in women's and girls' sports, and repeal the state law permitting trans students' use of bathrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identity.

In an email to the B.A.R. Asri Wulandari, communications manager for the trans initiatives office, stated: "As for our office's plans in the next year, we aim to continue working and collaborating with community members, particularly through our Trans Advisory Committee, as well as other city departments, in uplifting trans-serving organizations in San Francisco amidst a barrage of anti-trans antagonism across the country, and relatively difficult budget deficit locally."

McCree of the Transgender District commented that she's aware that many people are "feeling some type of tenseness in the air" because of the upcoming elections, but is assured by the unwavering tenacity of the trans community.

"We know that during elections trans people always become scapegoats, but I have to say, my community — our community — has been so resilient, even in the face of that resistance. We still find ways to collaborate together and stand strong with each other for each other. And I see us doing that again next year," she said.

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