Transgender homeless struggle to find shelter, resources

By: - July 20, 2018 6:11 am
Scarce resources

Bobby Evans inside Southern Nevada’s only dorm for trans women at Salvation Army. Photo: Michael Lyle

When Bobby Evans became homeless almost a year ago, she was referred to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission.

“I got there and thought, ‘Nope, not for me,’ ” she says. She was fearful about staying at a shelter that didn’t have a facility specific for transgender women.

Salvation Army
Babylyn Galit (left) and Bobby Evans inside Southern Nevada’s only dorm for trans women at Salvation Army. Photo: Michael Lyle

Babylyn Galit, who got the same referral when she became homeless almost three months ago, shared a similar thought.

They discovered their only option — the only temporary place available specifically for trans women in Southern Nevada — was a nine-bed dorm room at Salvation Army.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which interviewed nearly 30,000 trans-identified individuals, nearly one-third of transgender people experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

Resources can be scarce for the transgender community.

In 2016, the department of U.S. Housing and Urban Development issued guidelines for shelters to provide access to accommodations consistent with people’s gender identity. Those have since been erased from the website.

Current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said earlier this year that trans people in shelters can make people uncomfortable.  

In Nevada, Blue Montana, the transgender program manager with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center for Southern Nevada, says the community is still working to figure out the needs of the trans population.

“I don’t think people understand the plight of the trans community,” Montana says.

About 1 percent of the more than 6,000 homeless counted in the newly released 2018 Southern Nevada Homeless Census identified as either transgender or gender non-conforming, but the number is likely higher.

Ryan McDonald, the homeless services coordinator with Salvation Army, says it’s hard to get accurate numbers. If people are not out about being trans, it skews the data.

“I know a lot of clients don’t want to come out because they are afraid,” he says. “But when they report themselves as male instead of female to male, funding goes toward men and not transgender men.”

But the need is there. Montana estimates seven out of 10 clients he works with each week are trans people experiencing homelessness.

There has been more collaboration when it comes to resources, in particular between the Center and Salvation Army. When a trans client experiencing homelessness comes to the Center, their needs are assessed, whether it’s connecting with a trans-friendly health care providers or getting new identification, a vital step on the road to permanent housing or employment.

The Center also refers trans clients to the Salvation Army for temporary shelter.

“Going through this takes an emotional toll,” Evans says. “It would have been higher if I didn’t have a place to sleep.”

The Shade Tree says it helps trans women as well.

In a statement to Nevada Current, they said: “Anyone who is seeking shelter at The Shade Tree who self-identifies as female is eligible to stay at the shelter and is subject to the same policies and procedures, case management and programming as all of the clients at The Shade Tree.”

They also said they refer clients to the Center for case management.

Still, there are no shelters for trans men.

Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada provides a men’s dorm. “If we do have individuals who come in who identify as male, they are welcome to come in, and there are no questions asked,” says Leslie Carmine.

The nonprofit has made certain accommodations so trans men can come in early to shower, she adds.

Even if transgender men can stay in shelters, Montana says many of them would rather not out of fear of their safety. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey, 70 percent of those who sought temporary shelter said they were mistreated during their stay.

McDonald says the Salvation Army is looking into a dorm for trans men.

“The only reason we don’t have it (for trans men) is because we don’t have the space,” McDonald says. “It’s something we would like in the future. As of now, we saw the greater need was for (trans women).”

There are still limitations for trans women.

“We only have nine beds,” McDonald says. “If they are full, people are sleeping out on the streets.”

During the day, the Salvation Army dorm becomes a day shelter for trans women.

The Rev. Jamie Lee Sprague-Ballou has also opened a place for trans people to stay during the day. Transcending the Gender Box, located near Sahara Avenue and Maryland Parkway, opened as a space for the entire transgender community offering support groups and resources.

However, Sprague-Ballou says it gets trans clients who come in throughout the week looking to escape the heat.

“For a lot of them, going all the way down to Owens can be too long of a walk,” Sprague-Ballou says. “Having something here is more convenient.”

In Transcending the Gender Box homeless trans people have access to clothing and various hygiene items. They also offer a place to store possessions and microwave dinners. “This is the most we can financially afford to provide,” she adds.

Both Montana and Sprague-Ballou have clients who are taking hormones. When people are homeless, not only is it difficult to get medication but it can also be harder to access clean needles.

Sprague-Ballou says she teamed up with Trac-B Exchange — which works with the Southern Nevada Health District to provide clean needles in order to reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis — to provide free clean needle kits for clients who might need them to administer hormones.

“This way, they are a little more protected,” Sprague-Ballou says.

Beyond a place to stay, Montana says options for showers are also limited.  

The safety dorm at Salvation Army has a private shower, but other places offer open, locker room-style showers that lack privacy. “It makes it so showering is unsafe,” Montana says.

Last year, the nonprofit Clean the World started a mobile shower unit in Southern Nevada. It parks at the Center and within the Corridor of Hope at various times throughout the week and provides free, private shower stalls, something that benefits trans people Montana says.

Access to shelters is just one part of the problem. Since trans people face higher rates of housing and employment discrimination, getting back on their feet could take longer.

“Having permanent housing and getting a job go hand and hand,” Montana says.

Until recently, in order for someone to change their gender marker on their driver’s license, it required a medical form filled out by a doctor. Not having an updated license could hinder people from getting housing and finding a job. “If an ID doesn’t match (a person’s outward appearance), that could be a red flag for some places,” Montana says.

Though strides have been made, Montana says there still needs to be more compassion and education in Southern Nevada about how to properly talk with and treat transgender clients.  

“Why go back to a place that you’ve already had negative treatment of someone misgendering you,” Montana says.

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.