Santa Clara County Is Considering the First LGBTQ Shelter & Here's Why We Need It and More

Editor's Note:

When our unhoused LGBTQ folks prefer to brave it on the streets rather than inside the scarce available facilities, we have to listen up. As the county moves forward with the first emergency shelter for LGBTQ folks this winter, we are all being asked to support the fight for a safe space with humane care that allows all people to simply be who they are. A shelter is a first step.

I’m still healing from top surgery I had over the summer. The incision from the surgery opened and got infected shortly after I returned to the infested room I was renting, a place I was directed to by a case manager.

I had checked out the room, and knowing I was going to have surgery I was a bit concerned with the cleanliness, or lack of cleanliness. I asked the landlady if there was anything I needed to know about, any issues with the house.  She said everything was fine, she demanded a list of my medications, which I gave her, which included testosterone. The landlady asked, why do you take that? Full disclosure, I’m transgender, is what I responded. Her reply was, “well don’t tell anyone about that or I will evict you. I have evicted a man who was HIV positive so I will evict you too, no problem, if you are outed.”

My case manager heard my concerns, including my safety concerns, and she talked to the landlady. The result was that I was put in a “cleaner room” that wasn’t much better. I had to take the room, or I would be denied further services from the local center.

After my surgery, I came back to someone’s soiled underpants on the floor, and new holes in the wall above my clean stuff. I soon had bug bites all over my body and an open wound I went to the hospital every day to get cleaned and re-bandaged. My landlady tried to convince me that it wasn’t an insect problem; she tried to convince me that I had warts.

I’m 22 years old, and have been living in San Jose for about two years. I grew up on a reservation and came out to California to stop fearing for my life. I was briefly homeless back in the Midwest because my traditional native family tried to kill me multiple times and finally said, get out can’t have you here. It was November or December and there was lots of snow on the ground. I was lucky that my aunt had said there’s a room for you here, and so I came out to California to care for her.

I had to ask a friend to take me to the airport in the middle of the night so that my family wouldn’t know when or where I was going. She never told anyone where I went.

I’ve been receiving services from a local center for about a year and a half, which ultimately happened because my aunt died and I had nowhere to stay. There’s nothing that I could have done to stop that, I couldn’t stop my aunt from dying, I couldn’t make up the difference in the rent; it was impossible here in San Jose.

Prefer to be out on the street

There’s a 10-person capacity at the center I was staying in, the majority of the ten are straight and cisgender. The minority are people like me, and most of us would prefer to be out on the street, rather than that center because of how we are treated, our safety is very important, we are a lot more vulnerable. The services currently offered throughout the county do not adequately provide a safe, stable environment for LGBTQ people. It’s why along with a group of friends who’ve become family, I’ve advocated for the first LGBTQ shelter in our county.

I’ve experienced several of the housing services here and although my experience may not be the norm – to be threatened physically and called homophobic stuff, it demonstrates the need for a separate and safe shelter for LGBTQ unhoused persons. I believe the problems I’ve encountered, the problems my friends have encountered are systematic.

The clients are mostly modeling the inappropriate behaviors they see staff doing, and if these local services claim to be safe spaces for LGBTQ people, the experiences across the board demonstrate the opposite. Although there have been good people we’ve encountered and good programs, what I’ve experienced as a transperson in San Jose is usually considered unacceptable for any other marginalized person.

I’ve heard everything from off handed homophobic remarks, verbal threats – one young lady in a program I stayed in, said out loud to a group that she hoped everyone from LGBTQ Youth Space would die in a fire. I have been threatened physically. I’ve been called a tranny, something that gets you killed back home. I’ve had to attempt to sleep at an arms distance from someone pointing a gun while drunk in a shared public space, and woken up in the middle of the night to be informed that I needed to get my things and leave. None of these experiences were dealt with properly by the staff. I should not be constantly expected to educate staff there to help me, I should not continually be asked to either silence my experience or share extremely personal experiences. 

According to this year’s Santa Clara County Homeless Census, youth under 25 make up more than a third of the unhoused – more than 2,500 and 34% of all respondents to the survey identified as LGBTQ, citing that available data suggests LGBTQ individuals experience homelessness at higher rates, especially those under the age of 25.

First LGBTQ shelter

I am grateful that the county is working towards the first adult LGBTQ shelter and that we will have something for the winter because I still have friends out there that are going to be wet and cold and now those of us who need a warm place to sleep will have a warm place to sleep.

The system that we have is broken and we have to remake it. Although the shelter is open to people of all ages, those 18 to 25 are less likely to use it and it will be a disproportionate service because it’s not going to help people under 18, that’s a whole separate task we have to tackle.

At tomorrow’s county hearing it is imperative that we have multiple voices, not just trans voices, not just gay voices, LGBT voices. We need allies, we need them to come and say, yes I am ok with this, or yes this is affecting me in this way and yes I do support this.

There’s not enough urgency on the county’s end, it’s just us and we need people to step up and acknowledge the urgency and work with us. If this doesn’t happen, I can name a few people I probably won’t be seeing in the spring, and I can’t have that.

*The author's name has been changed to protect his identity

Wednesday Nov 8th at 2pm come and voice your support at the:
County of Santa Clara Civic Center Board of Supervisor's Chambers
70 West Hedding St.
San José, CA 95110 

If you can't attend call or write an email to the Board of Supervisors:
(408) 299-5001
[email protected]
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