How to make shelter safe for transgender individuals

written by Anna Blasco
March 22, 2016

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Access to emergency shelter can save lives by giving people with nowhere else to go a safe place to sleep. But for some, shelters have not been safe, welcoming environments. The shelter system as a whole is “utterly failing to provide safety or relief for transgender and gender non-conforming people facing a housing crisis,” according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

They found that for those transgender individuals who had attempted to access homeless shelters:

  • 29 percent were turned away
  • 42 percent were forced to stay in facilities designated for the wrong gender
  • 55 percent were harassed
  • 25 percent were physically assaulted
  • 22 percent were sexually assaulted

Tools for review and improvement

An examination of our shelter system’s policies is clearly long overdue. Thankfully, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recognized this need and has recently released further guidance and tools that can help:

  • One that is particularly helpful is a self-assessment tool that shelters and programs can use to generate an action plan
  • This guide provides sample policies and procedures that shelters and other programs can adopt, like an anti-discrimination policy for clients
  • At your next staff meeting, use these training scenarios to spark discussions about client and staff interactions and how to respond in a transgender-inclusive way.

Even if your program already has reviewed your policies and procedures, I urge you to look again. Staff turnover in shelters can be very high, so it is critical that staff training is ongoing. We will never truly be done freeing our agencies and programs of discriminatory policies.