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SRLP Launches Shelter Organizing Campaign to Demand Safe, Accessible, and Sustainable housing in NYC for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Communities

SRLP Launches Shelter Organizing Campaign to Demand Safe, Accessible, and Sustainable housing in NYC for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Communities.

This fall 2018 SRLP launched our Shelter Organizing Campaign to support the safety of trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people in the shelter system. Low-income TGNC people and TGNC people of color receiving services from the NYC Human Resource Administration, specifically the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and HIV/AIDS Service Administration (HASA), and who are in need of re-entry services, housing support as undocumented folks, and who are disabled, are vulnerable in city systems, face harassment, violence, and lack of support.  For decades our communities have faced issues accessing supportive housing services at DHS and face overall barriers to affordable and safe housing. Sylvia Rivera believed deeply in fighting for our rights for safe and affirming housing. Her legacy and our struggle continues!

What are we fighting for? Immediately, we are working to address issues of safety for TGNC folks in the shelter system. Our long term goal is sustainable housing for low-income TGNC folks in New York City. Learn more about the history behind our campaign, our demands, and upcoming action steps below.

Campaign History

In 2006 SRLP was instrumental in helping the DHS develop language and policy around TGNC peoples’ right to access the shelter system here in NYC. The 2006 policy stated “you have the right to be housed in a shelter that corresponds to your gender identity, not according to your birth sex. Shelter workers are required to address you as you request, and place you in a shelter that matches your gender, no matter what your legal documents say.”  Based on the newest language from DHS Directive on LGBTQ folks released in 2017, “The New York City Department of Social Services (DSS), including the Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), is committed to providing all employees, clients and individuals who interact with our agencies a safe, healthy, inclusive, affirming and discrimination-free environment.”

Despite policy created to protect TGNC folks, our communities know from experience that TGNC people are unsafe in the NYC Shelter System, as well as HASA. For TGNC people this can look like: misgendering, misnaming, being turned away for services, being outed by staff, unsafe bathroom and shower conditions, violence and harassment, not receiving support to exit the shelter, not being prioritized for housing or services, living in unsafe buildings and conditions, and experiences of discrimination from case managers, security guards, staff and other clients.

Most important to highlight, our members have expressed overwhelming experiences about how their mental and physical health has been impacted by DHS.  Issues such as not being able to safely shower or access the bathroom, issues with sleep and sleeping arrangements, delay in access to surgery or medical care while in a shelter, or the fact that many TGNC people have already suffered violence and harassment from family, school, medical or service providers, and in public spaces that deeply impact our mental and physical health, which is then exacerbated by similar experiences in the shelter system.  

In the summer of 2016 SRLP met with DHS and other key stakeholders to push DHS to open a trans specific shelter. We were told by then Department of Social Services Chief Special Services Officer Dan Tietz, “That it was not time for a trans specific shelter.” Later that year in the winter of 2016 DHS opened Marsha’s House, the first LGBTQ DHS Shelter ever created that served people 30 years old and under. Despite the fact that we told DHS how great the need was for TGNC folks and for folks of all ages, we have spent the last 2 years supporting members and clients who navigated Marsha’s House and other shelters facing violence, harassment, and discrimination.

In the fall of 2017, in a response to the unsafe DHS conditions that many of our clients and members have been navigating, SRLP’s Movement Building Team formed the Shelter Organizing Team. Initially meeting to develop a KYR Wallet-card for TGNC folks in shelter, and expanding to create a Know Your Rights (KYR) training for trainers, the team has now formalized demands and we are calling for action.

On October 9th 2018  at the Gender Marker Bill Signing members, interns, and staff who are a part of the Shelter Organizing Team silently held a banner in front of Mayor Bill DeBlasio, city council members, and agency staff that read “TGNC People M, F, and X are unsafe in DHS, house us now!”

Our Demands

For the next 6 months our demands include:

  1. We demand DHS immediately implement trans-specific floors/halls.
    Due to the lack of options for safety in relation to transfers or issues with residents, we demand that DHS implement TGNC-specific floors or halls in each borough, ideally where resident can have their own room, and their privacy is respected. Despite the Mayor’s plan to build 90 new shelters in the next year we do not believe in expanding the DHS system. We want to see permanent and sustainable housing for our folks.
  2. We demand DHS update their policy to answer all grievances (specifically from the TGNC community) within an agreed upon number of days.
    We know that the safety and harassment issues our communities face will not go away on their own. We want to see accountability from DHS when staff have had several complaints made about them.
  3. We demand that DHS be required to hold community meetings and forums.
    The lack of accountability DHS has to their own clients must end. DHS should be required to hold regular open community meetings to get feedback from DHS clients on conditions and their experiences.
  4. We demand City Council or an independent agency be created to audit training and tracking of grievances related to DHS staff, which should also be made available to residents.
    We believe that monitoring of DHS needs to take place, similar to the CCRB’s role with the NYPD. In the immediate future we demand more frequent trainings led by TGNC folks in the shelter as well as pre/post testing to make sure staff are trauma informed. This would help improve conditions for TGNC folks in the shelter.
  5. We demand access to necessary healthcare while in shelter.
    DHS residents who need to access medical care, such as gender affirming care, currently CANNOT access the care they medically need. DHS clients are told they have to wait until they have sustainable housing. We demand DHS provide the accommodations needed to access necessary medical care and otherwise prioritize TGNC people for sustainable housing so as not to delay accessing care. In addition, HASA clients need to be able to access supports such as a home health aides, which our members have shared being denied.
  6. We demand HRA create a priority status for TGNC folks. We recognize that many groups are especially vulnerable and in need of specific services and supports. We would like the city to include TGNC folks as a designated priority status. We demand that DHS prioritize TGNC folks for rental assistance vouchers, supportive housing, and other sustainable options.

Upcoming Action Steps

  • Tuesday October 9th 12-1pm Banner Action at Gender Marker X Bill Signing
  • Tuesday October 30th 6-8pm KYR Can Be Scary Halloween Party at SRLP
  • Wednesday October 31st (throughout the day) DHS is Nightmare Halloween Action
  • Monday November 12th Open Shelter Organizing Meeting 4-6pm at SRLP
  • Wednesday November 28th Wallet-Card Release Event and KYR in the Shelter System
  • December Action TBA

If you are currently experiencing issues of harassment or discrimination in the shelter system and need support please contact the Sylvia Rivera Law Project 212 337 8550 ext. 309 for Hannah Walker, Director of Survival and Self Determination.

To file a complaint of discrimination in New York City you can also contact the NYC Commission on Human (212) 306-7450

To get involved in SRLP’s Shelter Organizing Team contact sasha@srlp.org

SRLP’s Shelter Organizing Team consists of: Stephanie Phillips (lead organizer), Kimberly McKenzie (Director of Outreach and Engagement), Sasha Alexander (Director of Membership), India Rodriguez (organizer) and Tanya Marsh (organizer), Grace Kenney (MBT Intern)

Former organizers: Amari Xola Rasin and Jackson Wolf