Model Policy & Legal Guide for Homeless Shelters and Housing Programs

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Transgender Law Center is proud to introduce a model policy and legal guide for homeless shelters and housing programs.

Transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people experience homelessness at much higher rates than the general public, yet TGNC people experiencing homelessness often face barriers to shelter services because of the same discrimination that contributed to their homelessness in the first place. In a 2011 survey of 6,500 TGNC people, almost 20% of transgender individuals reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives. A majority of those trying to access a homeless shelter reported being harassed by shelter staff or residents; almost 30% of that majority were turned away altogether.

While it is dangerously common for TGNC people to be turned away from shelters because of their gender identity, those who do manage to gain access to shelters are frequently housed based on their sex at birth rather than their gender identity. This situation is particularly dangerous for transgender women who are inappropriately placed in men’s shelters where they often subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and abuse, including sexual assault. While some transgender people will run the high risk of facing harassment and violence in a shelter that doesn’t match their gender identity just so that they can be housed for the night, others in this situation will simply forgo shelter and sleep on street.

Shelters and agencies must work to ensure the safety of these particularly vulnerable groups by enacting TGNC-inclusive policies to address the unique needs of these clients. Ensuring that TGNC people are able to access services means shelter staff at all levels of the organization must be properly trained. To provide a safe and accessible environment to everyone they serve, staff must be able to respond to other clients’ objections to the presence of TGNC people by educating clients about who TGNC people are and the agency’s inclusive policies.

This model policy provides guidance to shelters and homeless services agencies as well as information about anti-discrimination laws that apply to many of these agencies.

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