SF opens adult trans housing
Come February Jane Cordova will move out of a shelter for LGBT adults in San Francisco’s Mission district for her own room in a Chinatown apartment. The scalloped windows in her bedroom will look out onto the city’s famed cable car line, which stops mere feet away.
Cordova, 60, a transgender woman, is the first resident selected for the Trans Home SF on Washington Street, the city’s first transitional housing program for transgender and gender-nonconforming adults. The program aims to provide apartments for 12 individuals age 25 and older who will be able to live rent-free for a year as they receive support in landing a job, enrolling in school, and saving money to move into their own apartment.
Tuesday afternoon Cordova saw her new temporary home for the first time and quickly got to work cleaning the windows in her bedroom and the baluster railing atop the stairs. The second-floor railroad flat has been divided into four bedrooms with a living area, kitchen, and one and a half bathrooms.
“I think it is great. I love the location,” said Cordova, who grew up in Mexico and moved to San Francisco in the early 1990s.
Stuck in the country’s immigration system, Cordova has struggled to find employment and affordable housing. A volunteer with the nonprofit El/La Para Trans Latinas, she is training to be a chef and hopes to be hired by a local restaurant one day.
“I like to cook,” said Cordova, who plans to oversee breakfast and dinner for her new housemates as she will serve as the resident manager. “I am the mother of the house.”
City officials and community leaders will cut the ribbon for the new transitional housing for transgender and gender-nonconforming adults Thursday, January 23. The first eight residents moving into two of the building’s apartments should be settled in by mid-February. Another four residents could move in this summer, as the third apartment in the building should become available.
The project is being funded through a $2.3 million allocation for the Our Trans Home SF initiative, which is also being used to provide rental subsidies to transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. The Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed split the funds between the city budgets for the current fiscal year and the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2021.
“Every day our trans community struggles to find affordable and inclusive housing. Despite [President Donald] Trump’s ongoing attacks San Francisco continues to have some of the strongest non-discrimination protections, although our ongoing housing crisis continues to impact our diverse community,” stated Breed. “With one out of every two transgender San Franciscan having experienced homelessness, we knew we had to take bold steps to fix these inequities. I am honored to join the coalition to launch this first-of-its-kind program because everyone deserves a safe place to call home.”
The lead agencies overseeing the trans home program are Larkin Street Youth Services and St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex-workers and other individuals. St. James is responsible for the transitional housing program, selecting the residents and hiring a social worker and two housing navigators who will work with them on-site.
“It is not fully ready but it will be by February,” said Toni Newman, St. James’ executive director and administrator of the new initiative, as she gave the Bay Area Reporter a sneak peek of the property Tuesday afternoon.
It is roughly a 15-minute walk to St. James Infirmary’s offices in Polk Gulch. The agency asked that the exact address for the housing not be disclosed to protect the privacy and safety of the residents.
The property is owned by a gay man and his partner, whom Newman said wishes to remain anonymous. They offered the apartments to the city program for slightly less than market value, she said, estimating the rent per person averages out to between $1,500 to $1,600 a month. The landlords expect that the current tenant of the third-floor apartment in the building will not renew their lease this spring and have offered to rent it to the trans initiative.
Just as the City of Las Vegas’ ordinance banning sleeping and camping on city sidewalk takes effect, a move homeless advocates say criminalizes poverty, the community is working to get more LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness connected to shelter.
Last week, the Salvation Army doubled its capacity to house trans clients from nine beds to 18 using an $8,000 donation from the Bright Star Foundation, which works with LGBTQ youth.
Ray Macfarlane, the trans and gender diversity manager at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, noted the importance of increasing beds for the LGBTQ population.
“I definitely have had people who have had a difficult time getting into some of the domestic violence shelters,” they said. “With some (organizations), I can expect if a trans woman or trans man walks through the door there is going to be some type of pushback. I’ve even tried to place someone and at first (the shelter) had space, but once it became apparent they were trans, there wasn’t space anymore. You can never prove those types of things.”
Even with additional beds, Macfarlane is worried the city’s ordinance, which went into effect Feb. 1 and prohibits camping and sleeping on sidewalks whenever there are beds open at emergency shelters or space at the open-air Courtyard Homeless Resource Center, will have unintended consequences — aside from potentially giving homeless people tickets they can’t afford.
Throughout the night, shelters are expected to update the total number of beds, broken down by gender, available through an online system the city created. The list includes the number of LGBTQ beds available at the Salvation Army, which has Macfarlane concerned about the process of determining who is qualified for the dorm.
“I don’t know if I want Metro screening for queerness on the street,” they said.
On average, more than 60 percent of Southern Nevada’s homeless population is unsheltered according to data from the 2019 Southern Nevada Homeless Census. Additionally, Nevada has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless youth in the nation. About 84 percent of homeless youth lack safe and stable accommodation, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
While Macfarlane said Southern Nevada has taken steps to address discrimination LGBTQ people face when seeking accommodations, there are still barriers.
“When you go to access services, it is not always apparent that is a space you’re allowed to go,” they said. “It’s not always a welcoming place and sometimes it is explicitly forbidden, especially in the case of trans people. Even if technically the administration at the top wants to be inclusive, it doesn’t always trickle down to the people at the front desk or the volunteers who might put people off or delay people while they are figuring out what they are supposed to do.”
The addition of shelter beds, Macfarlane added, is a positive step and shows momentum in the community to address the needs of the LGBTQ people, specifically trans individuals, experiencing homelessness.