One in three transgender people in the United States have experienced homelessness. The 2019 PIT Count revealed some terrible disparities in gender identity and housing. 63% of transgender people and 80% of nonbinary people experiencing homelessness were unsheltered. These numbers are high for a lot of reasons, and all of them are related to discrimination.
Discrimination can happen at any stage in the renting or sheltering process so it can be hard to identify and stop in the moment. For example, transgender and nonbinary folx may be forced by landlords to sign a lease in their deadnames, which is deeply harmful and can feel like the erasure of their identity. Or they may sign in their name and through running background checks their deadname could come up, causing some landlords to be suspicious and hesitant to rent to them. Trans/nonbinary people may have applications denied for housing opportunities and given no explanations why. One study from the Urban Institute found that transgender people who disclosed their gender were less likely to be told about available rental options. This compounds with other factors such as transgender and nonbinary people are often being stuck in lower-paying jobs because there is a deficit in affirming and trans-inclusive employment options. Being paid less means being more limited in budgeting when it comes to housing. Cost-burdened housing can lead to homelessness. These sources of oppression compound from all angles.
This population has many reasons to be afraid of homelessness systems. In one study from the Williams Institute at UCLA, they found that just under 85% of transgender and nonbinary people experiencing homelessness have avoided sheltering systems entirely because of fear of mistreatment and harassment by staff or other people staying there. The same study found that 41.4% of those who sought shelter were denied it, 29.8% were openly denied because of their gender expression, and 44% reported experiencing mistreatment at a shelter within the past year. Another barrier is that shelters are often sex-segregated based on the gender marker on an ID and/or their sex assigned at birth, instead of an individual’s gender identity despite guidance from HUD to the contrary This exposes people to further traumatization and hostility, like mental, physical, and/or sexual violence or abuse. Transgender and nonbinary people are 4 times more likely to experience rape, sexual assault, or aggravated assault. The likelihood of services that are competent, comprehensive, and inclusive can be very slim depending on their location. A lot of people are denied entry into shelters because the staff is uneducated or unwilling to accept trans and nonbinary people as their full selves. They do not know the language and/or access needs. All of these factors demonstrate a serious gap in services for transgender and non-binary folx.
Cisnormativity – defined as a world created by and for cisgender people- lends hand to a dominant culture of invalidation, exclusion, and violence. The disregard for trans and nonbinary people and their experiences can be soul-crushing and hopeless. Trans and/or non-binary people themselves are not the issue, the attitudes of our society are the issue.
We have to do better.
It starts with education. Educate yourself, and those around you on how to show up and be a human for these humans. This list is a good place to start your journey to being an ally. This guide is great for understanding transgender people’s experiences of homelessness. Commit to learning more to support our transgender and nonbinary neighbors.