Homeless Services Policy

Since 2003, representatives from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), Queers for Economic Justice, and the Gender Identity Project have been meeting with the New York City Department of Homeless Services to push them to comply with the changes passed to the New York City Human Rights Law in 2002 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. DHS has continued a policy of placing trans homeless people in shelters based on birth gender, resulting in brutal violence and discrimination that makes many people leave the shelter system or avoid it altogether, despite their need for housing. Horrible stories of violence faced by trans homeless people in DHS facilities come in to SRLP regularly. Most recently, a trans woman was hospitalized in January after being raped in a men’s shelter. The rigorous, three-year course of meetings and process we engaged in with DHS was often challenging. There were moments when we truly wondered if we would ever reach a solution without resorting to litigation (a costly, risky and time-consuming option). Despite this demanding process, on Tuesday, January 31, 2006 we arrived at an agreement with DHS on a formal policy that will place trans-people in shelters based on their self-identified gender. A few highlights of the policy include:

  • Trans-people will be placed in shelters according to gender identity and will be able to use appropriate sleeping, restroom and bathing facilities
  • Trans-people will be able to wear clothes that comply with their gender identities
  • DHS will be providing full training for all shelters, beginning with 6 specifically targeted shelters (to get things moving as quickly as possible)

This is a huge moment for the trans communities, representing a wave of change that is playing out in the work we have been engaged with in other city agencies. New York City now has one of the best shelter policies in the country and we are very exited and proud to share this information with as many people as possible. Read the policy (PDF format). We want to thank and credit the other people and organizations who have helped make this new policy a reality including the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Franklin Romeo from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Ivan Dominguez from the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues at the New York County Lawyers’ Association, Diana Olaizola and Patrick Markee from the Coalition for the Homeless (CFTH), and Joann Prinzivalli from the New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO), as well as the many members of a larger working group hosted by QEJ who helped bring this issue to the Mayor’s office and/or have participated for brief and particularly demanding periods.

We hope that activists and organizations will continue to work with SRLP to ensure that DHS complies with this new policy, and that proper training is implemented to make the promise of this policy a reality in the lives of homeless New Yorkers.