Homeless shelters in Memphis often fail to serve transgender homeless people by denying shelter based on gender identity or housing transgender clients in a space opposite his or her gender identity.
Members of the Homeless Organizing Power for Equality, a Memphis homeless activism organization, have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness. It’s organizers work gain shelter or permanent housing for transgender men and women in need.
Nearly one in five transgender people has experienced homelessness at some point because of their gender identity or expression, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Of the people surveyed in the South, 7 percent were evicted, 17 percent were denied a home or apartment, and 26 percent had to find a temporary space to stay or sleep. Also, nearly a third of those who attempted to access homeless shelters were denied access on the basis of their gender identity, and almost half of those had to stay in a shelter designated for the wrong gender
Solutions provided by H.O.P.E. to solve the problem of transgender homelessness focus on providing shelters and permanent housing that is all-inclusive and non-discriminatory.
Tamara Hendrix, the organizing coordinator for H.O.P.E. said the solution to the issue is about safe spaces.
“I feel that transgender persons need their own shelter so they know they will be accepted, and to be accepted into all shelters because no one wants to feel slighted,” Hendrix said.
Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Equal Access Rule from 2012, federally funded emergency shelters are required to house transgender people according to their gender identity.
However, in Memphis most of the homeless shelters are operated by faith-based organizations and require those seeking shelter to be housed according to their gender assigned at birth-not the gender the individual expresses.
Memphis Union Mission director of development Steve Carpenter said, “As long as an individual identifies himself as a male, we would allow him to stay at our men’s shelter,” Carpenter said. “We’ve had transgender guests stay with us in the past, and we have at least one transgender man staying with us right now.”
Another issue that transgender homeless people face is violence. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey also found that 26 percent of those surveyed had been physically assaulted because of discrimination. To avoid violence, transgender people need homeless shelters to include them.
Hendrix revealed that one transgender member of H.O.P.E. was forced back into homelessness after a permanent housing option fell through because it didn’t meet inspection. While living on the streets again, she was brutally beaten with a metal object behind Catholic Charities on Jefferson and sent to the hospital.
“I never cried so much to see this happen to such a giving and wonderful person,” Hendrix said. “I just held her hand and said a silent prayer and told the family we would keep her uplifted in prayer.”
“I feel that transgender persons need their own shelter so they know they will be accepted, and to be accepted into all shelters because no one wants to feel slighted.” — Tamara Hendrix
Jamie Young, who is the organizing coordinator for H.O.P.E.’s Women’s caucus, said her transgender friend was robbed, beaten with a brick and stabbed multiple times outside Sacred Heart Church on Cleveland.
Young said members of H.O.P.E. are the experts on transgender homelessness in Memphis, but they will assist other organizations willing to establish facilities to house transgender clients.
“If someone else wants to do it, we will fully support them as long as we know them and can see that they are empowering T people,” Young said.
She said she currently doesn’t know of any groups that are working on a shelter for the Trans community.
Young said that because the trend to end homelessness is moving towards permanent housing, it’s difficult to get funding to open a shelter that will cater to Trans needs.
Despite having permanent housing as a resource, there aren’t enough landlords. Young said H.O.P.E. is seeking out new ones.
Toni Whitfield, president of H.O.P.E.’s Women’s caucus, said she’d like to get a building for H.O.P.E’s members.
Whitfield, who helped found H.O.P.E. three years ago, experienced homelessness for eight years. Now she works to help others escape homelessness. Three years ago she received permanent housing and now offers a basic shelter in her own home.
“She will take in people especially if they are Trans, but it not always easy,” Young said.
Whitfield said she tries to help anyone she can, but with multiple houseguests it can get a little crazy.
“You’ve got to get used to everybody,” Whitfield said. “Everybody has their thing and you got to get used to personalities.”
Project by Kelsey Gilliam, Karlisha Hayes, Austin Kemker, and Robbie Porter.