Advocates Criticize City Shelter Conditions for Homeless LGBTQ Individuals

Trans organizers blasted the Department of Social Services-Department of Homeless Services for allegedly exposing trans residents to unsafe conditions.
Sylvia Rivera Law Project

LGBTQ advocates took to City Hall on September 27 to demand changes to the New York City shelter system in response to what they described as unsafe housing conditions and a transphobic atmosphere.

Organizers from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), the Ghost Project, Destination Tomorrow, Princess Janae Place, and other trans-led groups are calling on city leadership — including Council Speaker Corey Johnson as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration’s Department of Social Services-Department of Homeless Services (DSS-DHS) — to ramp up efforts to provide vouchers to help residents leave hotel shelters, offer reasonable accommodations for trans and gender-non-conforming individuals, and put an end to anti-trans harassment, including misgendering and deadnaming from shelter staff.

Grandichelli, a disabled trans woman who lives in a supportive housing shelter in the Bronx, recalled being abruptly transferred from a shelter with an elevator to another one with unreliable service.

“One of the staff [members] said, ‘bring your ass downstairs now,’ and I fell down the stairs because the elevator was out,” said Grandichelli, who stood with SLRP at City Hall. “You think they cared? No. They tried to whitewash and cover that up quick.”

Grandichelli said activists are calling for the City Council to pass Int. 1233, which would give advanced written notice for non-emergency shelter transfers — but that bill was proposed in 2018 and has not moved since.

Advocates accused DSS-DHS staffers of anti-trans harassment. Sylvia Rivera Law Project

At the press conference, activists also condemned congregate shelters due to the threat of anti-LGBTQ violence and contracting COVID-19.

“Putting TGNC people back in congregate settings is dangerous for us,” Grandichelli said in a written statement. “The negative treatment, the harassment, the violence against us — to put them back into that situation during a pandemic makes that risk even higher.”

Shnya Unity, an SRLP member and action organizer, blasted security guards for harassing her in the shelter system.

“I feel like DHS needs to have more consideration when it comes to TGNC people because the security is very disrespectful,” said Unity, who lives at the Two Bridges shelter in Manhattan. “When I came down the stairs, they hassle me or flirt with me because I’m trans, and when I don’t want to flirt, they will call their boss and say, ‘this t****** is messing with me,’ and all I’m doing is wearing my regular clothes, or if I have on long nails or a wig.”

Unity also claims security guards subject trans and gender-non-conforming residents to invasive procedures when they conduct searches.

“They want to wand your chest and your breasts; they do it over and again,” she said in a statement. “It makes me so upset because I don’t like people touching me they do it because they want to call us a ‘man’ or a ‘he,’ and it makes me unsafe there.”

In 2019, the DSS-DHS announced a policy stating that transgender, gender-non-conforming, and non-binary individuals would not be turned away from gender-affirming facilities or programs due to their sex assigned at birth.

“DHS expects all staff and providers to follow the requirements in this procedure, as well as the DSS LGBTQI policy (DSS-PD-2017-01) to model appropriate behavior at all times,” reads a policy issued in July 2019. “Staff or client discomfort about gender, perceived gender, or sexual orientation must not affect service delivery or the respectful treatment of clients.”

DSS-DHS told Gay City News that the agency has been open and responsive to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. In a statement, a DSS-DHS spokesperson did not respond directly to the criticism but said the department has made “important progress” on issues affecting LGBTQ homeless populations and “will continue to listen to feedback from partners such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.”

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