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LGBTQ Housing Programs Are Struggling To Keep Up With Demand

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A sign in support of Black trans lives at a rally for housing and health care for LGBTQ people on Friday, July 31, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic and the job losses that came with it have had a significant impact on LGBTQ people. For a community that already faces barriers to housing and employment, the shutdown has exacerbated systemic problems, especially for transgender and non-binary people of color. 

John Dez Easter with True T Pgh said their housing program, Option-U, has been filled to capacity for the past few months. Launched last year, Option-U has provided temporary housing for 16 individuals, according to Easter, and 10 have gone on to obtain a full-time job and stable housing. That’s important, Easter said, because it can be a challenge for transgender and non-binary people to find employment where they can be themselves.

“It’s hard to find jobs that are safe, that [do] not discriminate against you,” Easter said. “This community that we serve has major issues when it comes to employment because of those reasons.”

Option-U is a transitional or emergency housing program typically lasting about 30-60 days. But Easter said even after people leave the space, True T project managers check in with individuals regularly for months afterward.

Trans YOUniting’s Dena Stanley said she’s been overwhelmed by the volume of people reaching out to her not only for housing assistance, but help with utility and grocery bills.

“We had a small budget of maybe like, $4000, but that’s almost depleted basically now,” Stanley said.

Recently, the Trump administration published a rule that would allow single-sex homeless shelters to turn people away who they believe might be transgender. It also proposed overturning non-discrimination protections for transgender people in medical settings. 

Allegheny County has an ordinance in place that prevents landlords or doctors from discriminating against the LGBTQ community, but Stanley said it’s still a problem for people in other southwestern Pennsylvania counties. The issue is amplified, she said, when the individual is a person of color.

“They can take your housing away and there’s nothing you can do about it, really,” Stanley said. “It’s a domino effect. One thing happens and it just trickles down and then you’re at the bottom and you’re wondering: how am I going to come back to where I want to be?”

Lyndsey Sickler with the youth housing program Proud Haven said the pandemic has kept some LGBTQ people in situations that could be detrimental to their mental or physical health. Sickler said some people are living with family members who do not support their sexual orientation or gender identity, and therefore at risk of losing their housing at any time.

“It absolutely still happens and often,” Sickler said. “These services are really important because nobody needs to be on the street.”

Proud Haven has expanded its services outside of its normal age range of 18-25 because of the increased requests for services. Sickler estimates they’ve seen a 25 percent increase since the pandemic began.