Spotlighting the LGBTQ+ community’s urgent need for increased, equitable access to housing resources.
by: Jennifer Rubinshteyn, Legal Intern
The Waterfront Project stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in furthering liberation for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Around the world, the month of June is known as Pride month and is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ identity and commemorating the efforts of LGBTQ+ organizers who have fought and continue to fight tirelessly for the rights of LGTBQ+ people across the nation and world at large. The Waterfront Project is committed to ensuring Justice for the LGBTQ+ community every day of the year. If you know anyone who needs legal services or housing counseling, please call 551-256-7578.
The History of Pride
The first Pride marches were held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, marking the annual tradition of Pride now practiced across the globe. (source) On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Uprising forever changed the landscape of LGBTQ+ activism in the United States. The Stonewall Uprising arose out of yet another police raid on one of New York City’s most popular gay bars of the 1960s, The Stonewall Inn. Though these raids were a common occurrence and this would not be the first time the LGBTQ+ community pushed back on police harassment, the series of events that would occur in the six days following this police raid would make history. This mobilization occurred in the context of the rise in activism that occurred in the 1960s, with crowds of 1000s of LGBTQ+ protestors appearing to organize against police brutality and the violent oppression of LGBTQ+ people. (source)
At the time, the movement by and large excluded gender nonconforming individuals and people of color. However, trans women of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (source) have done monumental work in shaping the LGBTQ+ movement as it exists today. These two LGBTQ+ activist powerhouses continuously emphasized the importance of advocating for the LGBTQ+ individuals who held the least socio-political power due to facets of their identity such as race, gender identity, class, disability, and incarcerated status. They drew critical attention to the inequity that existed within the LGBTQ+ movement itself and advocated for a more expansive approach to LGBTQ+ activism which centered the liberation of the most vulnerable members of the community. Most famously, they started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) House, one of the first organizations of its kind providing resources to homeless trans youth, who continue to face disproportionate rates of homelessness today.
Intersectionality is an important aspect of the work that we do at the Waterfront Project, as our clients come from all walks of life and identities. As both a legal and social service provider, it is important that we take into account the identities of our clients so that we can provide assistance that is empathic, effective, and sustainable given the unique experiences and challenges they face.
LGBTQ+ Housing Inequity
This month, the Waterfront Project aims to draw attention to the ways in which individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ disproportionately experience a variety of challenges related to housing stability and the ways that those challenges are impacted by specific aspects of their identities. Below are some statistics:
LGBTQ+ People Generally
- 17% of LGBTQ+ adults reported they experienced homelessness in their lives, which is more than twice what has been found among cisgender, straight individuals (at 6%). (source)
- Approximately 20% of LGBTQ renters report being behind on rent, compared to 14% of non-LGBTQ renters, according to the report by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law. (source)
- Some 36.6 percent of LGBT adults lived in a household that had difficulty paying for usual household expenses in the previous seven days, as opposed to 26.1 percent of non-LGBT adults. (source)
- The CAP survey found that LGBTQ respondents and their families relied on public housing assistance at 2.5 times the rate of non-LGBTQ respondents. (source)
- 1 in 10 Young people ages 18-24 experience homelessness in a given year in the US. (source)
- LGBTQ+ Youth are at 2.2x the risk of experiencing homelessness at least once in their lives as compared to non-LGBTQ+ youth. (source)
- Youth who are black and LGBTQ reported double the rate of homelessness as white LGBTQ (16% vs. 8%). (source)
- Studies show that 1 in 5 transgender people are in need or at risk of needing homeless shelter assistance. (source)
- One in ten transgender individuals reports being evicted based on their gender expression. One in five reports being denied an apartment or home based on gender expression. (source)
- Nearly 30% of homeless transgender individuals report being turned away from a shelter due to their transgender status and 22% report experiencing sexual assault perpetrated by staff or other shelter residents. (source)
- Approximately 8% of transgender adults of diverse sexual orientations reported recent experiences of homelessness in the 12 months prior to being interviewed. By contrast, 3% of cisgender and genderqueer sexual minority adults and 1% of cisgender  straight adults reported recent experiences with homelessness. (source)
LGBTQ+ people who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)
- 89% of people experiencing homelessness are BIPOC.
- More LGBT people reported renting their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic (40.5%) compared to non-LGBT people (24.6%), and LGBT people of color had the highest levels of renting compared to all other groups (47% POC LGBT, 35.7% POC non-LGBT, 36.6% While LGBT, 18.8% White non-LBGT). (source)
- Youth who are black and LGBTQ+ experience 2x the rate of homelessness as those who are white and LGBTQ+ (Black & LBGTQ+ at 16% vs. White & LGBTQ+ at 8%). (source)
- Overall, 35% of Black LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness, been kicked out, or run away. This rate was higher in Black transgender and nonbinary youth (45%) compared to Black cisgender LGBQ youth (31%). (source)
These statistics reveal the discrimination and related challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community at large and highlight the disproportionate impact faced specifically by LGBTQ+ Youth, Transgender individuals, and BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals. Service providers must take on an intersectional approach in addressing their clients’ needs, taking into consideration these various facets of their identities.
What can be done?
Accessibility and equitable distribution of housing, social, and legal services
The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program was designed by The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness, fund organizations seeking to rehouse homeless people, promote self-sufficiency among the homeless population, and to promote access to and utilization of other resources and services for homeless individuals and families. Those who are part of the CoC are subject to certain federal civil rights laws relating to nondiscrimination and affirmative access, among which are the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH), and Equal Access to Housing Rule.
The FHA prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin in all housing regardless of the type of funding or ownership. The AFFH requires that CoC-funded projects, such as our very own Waterfront Project, take active steps to ensure that they are affirmatively furthering fair housing by, for example, marketing their services to those who are least likely to apply without outreach. The Equal Access to Housing Rule requires that “recipients and subrecipients of CPD (HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development) funding, as well as owners, operators, and managers of shelters, and other buildings and facilities and providers of services funded in whole or in part by any CPD program to grant equal access to such facilities, and other buildings and facilities, benefits, accommodations and services to individuals in accordance with the individual’s gender identity, and in a manner that affords equal access to the individual’s family.” Even still, many LGBTQ+ people, and particularly low income LGBTQ+ individuals continue to experience housing discrimination as a result of their identities (as shown by the statistics shared earlier). On top of being at risk of discrimination when trying to find and maintain housing, LGBTQ+ people often do not have equitable access to housing services that address their needs (more on this in the next point).
HUD offers guidance on complying with these three key laws that all CoCs should review to ensure that they are not in violation of their obligations.
Safer Spaces & Cultural Competency
Most LGBTQ+ individuals have experienced discrimination, exploitation, and/or violence and thus are often hesitant to engage with legal and social services at the risk of experiencing similar trauma at the hands of service providers. Studies show that for these resources to be truly accessible to LGBTQ+ individuals, it is imperative that they demonstrate their status as a safe and affirming space for the LGBTQ+ community.
The findings in the Voices of Youth Count’s study on LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness reinforce the need for trauma-informed services, especially during adolescence and young adulthood, when unaddressed trauma can have long-term consequences. Training staff to have a culturally competent and trauma informed approach when serving those who identify as LGBTQ+ helps organizations to ensure they are showing up for their clients in a way that minimizes harm and maximizes the likelihood of the LGBTQ+ community utilizing their services.
HUD exchange provides a great starting point for shelters in their Training Scenarios to Use with Project Staff and Guide to Equal Access for Transgender People. The American Bar Association also published an article which highlights the importance of creating a standard for Cultural Competency within the legal profession, specifically speaking to competency in serving LGBTQ+ clients.
More research and data collection
Because of the historic and continued stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community, there is a lack of data and research surrounding issues of LGBTQ+ poverty and homelessness. Research allows for the implementation of comprehensive and actionable policies that can positively impact communities on a larger scale. However, studies and research largely rely upon available data in order to identify relevant patterns (of marginalization, poverty, homelessness, etc.). Voices of Youth Counts (VoYC), a uniquely extensive policy research initiative focusing on LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness in the US, highlights the importance of data collection efforts in supporting advocacy for the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community. With more data, research is more effective, generating more specific findings which can then be used to advocate for the allocation of resources to those populations who shown to be at the highest risk.
True Colors United created an unprecedented guide on ways to most effectively conduct research on LGBTQ+ Youth homelessness. HUD also has a list of resources offering guidance in implementing a client centered approach to data collection.
Addressing the root causes of LGBTQ+ homelessness
Homophobic stigma continues to be a leading cause of LGBTQ+ homelessness in that it permeates familial dynamics, causing LGBTQ+ individuals to feel unsafe or unwelcome in their homes, permeates workplaces through discriminatory hiring practices, creating disproportionate barriers to employment for LGBTQ+ people, and it both causes and perpetuates the disproportionate rates of mental health issues experienced by LGBTQ+ people, most of whom have experienced harassment, abuse, and/or discrimination as a result of their identity. These issues create inequitable conditions in which LGBTQ+ individuals have difficulty maintaining financial, emotional, and physical safety. We must stand against homophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and policies which are at the core of the homelessness crisis within the LGBTQ+ community. We must support those organizations who are conducting invaluable research and fighting for policy change (many of which are cited in this blog post). We must address our own biases and loudly support policies and practices which address the inequities and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Resources for LGBTQ+ Individuals:
- Report Housing Discrimination
- The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Resources
- Garden State Equality – New Jersey’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy and education organization.
- Garden State Equality LGBTQ Affirming Healthcare Map
- Legal Services New Jersey (LSNJ) LGBTQ+ Youth Resources
- US Dep’t of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) LGBTQ+ Homelessness Resources (and various other resources)
- The Ali Forney Center – Aims to protect LGBTQ+ youth from the harms of homelessness and empower them to live independently.
- The Trevor Project – Resources for LGBTQ+ youth
- Homeless Youth Handbook – Information for LGBTQ+ Youth in New Jersey
- National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) – An organization led by trans activists and allies who advocate for policy changes that improve quality of life for trans individuals.
- NCTE: Self Help Guides
- NCTE: Know Your Rights
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) – SRLP works to improve access to respectful and affirming social, health, and legal services for LGBTQ+ communities.
- SRLP Resources
- Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund – Pro Bono legal name change services and legal trans-related health care services.
- Sage USA – Resources for LGBTQ+ Elders.
- Sage USA – Housing Resources for LGBTQ+ Elders
- Sage USA – Legal & Financial Resources for LGBTQ+ Elders
- Bill of Rights for LGBTQI and HIV+ Long Term Care Residents
- LGBTQ+ Resources for Professionals