In honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility, the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) affirms that trans women are an integral part of our community. As an increasing number of self-identified transgender women come through DWC’s doors seeking housing, services, and a community of support in Skid Row, we seek to advance awareness and understanding of trans women who are experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness.
The numbers of transgender people who experience homelessness and housing insecurity are startling – one in five trans individuals has experienced homelessness at some time in their lives because of discrimination and/or family rejection. And the discrimination extends to the housing market – when trying to rent or buy a home, one in five transgender people in the U.S. has been refused a home or apartment, and more than one in ten have been evicted because of their gender identity.
Losing housing and surviving homelessness are traumatic experiences, and it is critically important we provide safe, trauma-informed, and compassionate environments for every individual accessing services. Transgender individuals, and trans women of color in particular, face systemic barriers and are frequently re-victimized when they seek help. For a trans woman, who is more likely to have a history of interpersonal violence and abuse, this focus on safety cannot be overstated. Many trans women have been cut off from familial and social support networks, and it may be extremely difficult for them to get out of violent relationships.
Transgender individuals, and trans women of color in particular, face systemic barriers and are frequently re-victimized when they seek help.
In addition to the experiences leading to her homelessness, a transgender woman coming to DWC has previously faced disproportionate challenges in accessing resources and support. Mainstream providers may reinforce traditional gender binaries and identities, and their services can be not only inaccessible, but also stigmatizing. One in three transgender individuals facing homelessness has been turned away from a shelter due to their transgender status; 42% have been forced to stay in a shelter living as the wrong gender. A shocking 22% of those who have stayed at a shelter report experiencing sexual assault from staff or other residents.
Imagine a shelter where you are assigned an incorrect gender upon entry, and where you fear for your safety during the night. Imagine a community health clinic that refuses you service or cannot meet your specific healthcare needs. These are just a few injustices in a larger landscape of emotional, psychological, social, and at times physical trauma that trans women who face extreme poverty and homelessness may experience.
Visibility is not just being seen, but being understood and embraced by community.
This Transgender Day of Visibility, we as a community celebrate transgender women and commit to fighting for a world where trans people can live without fear. This Transgender Day of Visibility, we mourn the fatal shooting last week of Kourtney Yochum, a transgender woman and Skid Row resident, at the hands of her partner. We are deeply pained by the shockingly high rates of homicide against transgender women throughout the country – yet shock is not enough.
Visibility is not just being seen, but being understood and embraced by community. We offer our thanks to the transgender individuals who contribute to our Downtown Women’s Center community. You are each unique and precious to us, and we are committed to embracing your myriad of journeys and identities as we do whatever we can to help you find safety, peace, and fulfillment.
 Among the service models critical to ending homelessness is Trauma-Informed Care (TIC), which recognizes the traumatic impact of homelessness on an individual’s physical and mental health. This model hinges on asking, “What happened to you?” rather than, “What is wrong with you?”