Recent Trump administration proposal could hurt homeless transgender community, advocates say

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter, Robert Samarron - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - Did you know homelessness disproportionately impacts the members of the LGBTQ community? That's why a local homeless shelter that serves the community says their services are so important.

Kameron Davis, 22, came out as a transgender man when he was 19. He says his family was not entirely accepting of the idea of him being transgender, so he moved to San Antonio to start fresh.

After couch surfing, Davis became homeless.

“I wasn’t seen as a man that I knew I felt I was,” he said.

Eight months later, Davis found himself finally safe and happy at Thrive Youth Center, a homeless shelter for adults ages 18 to 25 who are part of LGBTQ community.

“I love being here because everybody has been super supportive,” Davis said. “All the staff members are, like, LGBT. Everybody here just is a family.”

It’s a family that he needed during a vulnerable time.

Thrive workers know the help and resources the center offers are crucial, as 70% of transgender people have experienced harassment while at a shelter.

“There is a lot of our young people who have reported being beaten up because of how they identify,” said Chelsea Berkowitz, with the Thrive Youth Center.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition says LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their non-LGBTQ peers. The group also said one in three transgender people will experience homelessness in their lifetime.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is proposing a new rule that advocates say would roll back protections for homeless transgender people. It would allow federally funded shelters to turn people away based on religious grounds and safety and practical concerns.

The rule would also allow shelters to consider a person's sex assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity, when determining accommodations, which means transgender women could be forced to share bathrooms with men.

The proposal upsets Davis, who said he hopes one day, the discrimination will stop.

“We're all people where we all exist in this world together and it's falling apart because of all this discrimination,” he said. “We are all human.”

Right now, the equal access rule bars federal housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The group that oversees homelessness in San Antonio and Bexar County, the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, said it will continue following that rule.

Brenda Mascorro, executive director of SARAH, sent KSAT the following statement:

“San Antonio is fortunate to have Thrive Youth Center, an LGBTQ-focused shelter and housing program for youth experiencing homelessness.  Additionally, Thrive has street outreach workers focused on engaging youth experiencing homelessness.  We are proud to have these services available to our LGBTQ community. Additionally, HUD-funded agencies in San Antonio/Bexar County also have to follow local written standards for providing assistance that are reviewed by service providers and approved by the Continuum of Care Board that represents a broad range of stakeholders in our community.  Current local policies align with the current Equal Access Rule and would have to be changed locally in order to have an effect on our population here.  Even so, most of our shelters are not HUD-funded and would not be impacted by the changes. In terms of SARAH, our goal is to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring, regardless of an individual’s gender identity.”  

Thrive Youth Center officials said they are thankful for to have an agency that supports all homeless people in the community.

“They just want everyone to have a safe place to be, a safe place to get resources and support when they've hit a hard time in their live,” Berkowitz said.

A summary of the proposal says it continues HUD’s policy of ensuring that its programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Copyright 2019 by KSAT - All rights reserved.