Op-ed: Trans/Queer Homelessness in St. Louis and How You Can Help

Pride Alliance Exec Board

The problem:

With the South 40 within minutes of campus and most apartments just walking distance away from classes, as a Washington University community we often overlook how extreme the problem of housing insecurity is in the city at large. In 2015, when the most recent data were gathered, St. Louis’ homeless population was at 1,336, and the number of people living in homelessness far outweighed the amount of resources available to them. In order to address the gap in homeless services, in August 2016, St. Louis opened up the Biddle House, a center dedicated to rehabilitation. Although this was an important step by the city, according to non-profit leaders, there remains a deficit of 100-200 beds with which to comprehensively house the homeless population in St. Louis. This lack of provisions has left non-profits and other charitable organizations scrambling to provide space amidst harsh weather conditions that threaten people’s health. Tent encampments have formed as a result of this lack of housing, but they are always eventually forced to disperse, forcing homeless people back into an under-resourced system with no path to permanent housing.

Within the larger problem of St. Louis’ inadequate homeless services, there remains a pressing issue that we cannot overlook: the high rates of homelessness for transgender individuals and the discrimination they face navigating homeless services. In a city where just finding a bed is difficult, the challenges to finding a safe, accepting space for transgender clients can be overwhelming. According to Sayer Johnson, one of the founders of the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, there are only two beds in the entirety of St. Louis specifically reserved for transgender clients. Furthermore, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, around 30 percent of transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and 70 percent who have stayed in shelters in the past year have experienced some form of mistreatment because of their identity. Although in September 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development finalized guidelines requiring shelters to provide services to transgender people in accordance to gender identity, individual organizations and workers still have the potential to perpetuate their own prejudices, and it is unclear whether discriminatory practices will be addressed in the current political climate that continues to circulate transphobic rhetoric. With the rate of hate crimes and violence against the transgender population on the rise (in 2016, advocates tracked at least 23 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded), it is imperative that we make a greater effort to house, protect and validate the transgender population.

How can I help?

On March 3 and 4, Pride Alliance will be hosting a Gender Inclusive Clothing Swap from 1-6 p.m. at the Gargoyle and ticket proceeds will go to the Trans/Queer Flat, one of the only affordable, gender-affirming living spaces created for trans and queer people in St. Louis. In 2016, Sayer Johnson created the Flat as a privately owned house dedicated to housing trans and queer residents and immediately addressing the gaps in St. Louis homeless services. The Trans/Queer Flat prioritizes the housing of trans women of color, an especially vulnerable population that receives little structural support from traditional shelter organizations. To assist the Trans/Queer Flat in their efforts, Pride Alliance will donate the ticket sales that will go towards food, everyday living provisions and home improvements for the Flat so that this critical space is able to continue. The clothing swap will also serve trans and gender non-binary students at Wash. U., as it will provide students with gender-affirming clothing at a reasonable price.

How it works:

Buy a ticket for entrance, $3 for one day and $5 for two days, at our tabling hours at the Danforth University Center or at the door on March 3 and 4. Entrance means you can come in and take as many clothes as your heart desires! Though not required, we encourage you to bring clothes that no longer fit you or your style. Please bring your clothes that are washed, free of lice, stains, holes or other damage to the Gargoyle on the day of or to our donations bin at the DUC the week prior. All students are welcome regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This weekend, come to the Gender Inclusive Clothing Swap to not only bolster your wardrobe and support sustainability, but also to support a great cause.

Learn more about the Trans/Queer Flat at: https://www.facebook.com/transqueerflat/