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New Year Resolution: Housing Equality

The coming of this year brings new changes, which will impact our community and policies. For those of us who work in housing, we will witness HUD’s final rule entitled “Equal Access in Accordance with an Individual’s Gender Identity in Community Planning and Development Programs.” Through this rule, the Federal Government seeks to ensure equal access for individuals, in accordance to their identity, in programs and shelters under HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD).

This rule is based on HUD’s 2012 final rule, “Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity”, of the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which sought to ensure that HUD’s housing programs were open for all eligible individuals and families regardless or sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. The rules encourage all recipients and sub recipients of CPD funding, to grant equal access to such individuals.

This specific rule requires that federally funded single-sex projects provide transgender individuals with access to their services, in a manner that is consistent with their identity, without asking these individuals to provide documentation or subjecting them to invasive questioning.

Earlier last year, the Center for America Progress published a study testing 100 homeless shelters across four different states: Tennessee, Washington, Connecticut and Virginia to determine the degree at which transgender women are able to access facilities consistent with their identity. The study revealed that only 30 percent of the facilities surveyed were willing to house test callers who self-identified as transgender.

However, the willingness of the facility to provide services also varied based on the state’s legislation. Shelters in states with LGBT protections were twice as likely to provide service to transgender women than shelters located in states without existing LGBT protections. The study also proved that women’s shelters were more willing to provide appropriate guidance to transgender women (showing a 35% willingness to assist the caller) in comparison to a 26% willingness from mixed gender shelters.

The treatment of the LGBT community is especially prevalent when dealign with youth homelessness considering, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Policy Institute, studies indicate that of the national estimate of homeless youth- which is estimated to be between 1 and 1.7 million- between 20% and 40% identify as LGBT.

The difficulty for these individuals to access services due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity constitutes the biggest and most important barrier when discussing ending homelessness for ALL. Equal access could –and should- decrease that gap not only in receiving necessary services, but also in providing these individuals with access to safe and affordable housing.

Our programs and case managers strive for streamlining these services in a way that addresses an individual’s homelessness and surrounds them with the services they need to thrive. We seek, every day, to support our community by increasing and strengthening these efforts. Training and awareness in the importance of equal access to housing and shelter is important. Let me ask you: if ending homelessness is our goal, then does it matter who is homeless or what their sexual orientation may be?

It’s a new year, Richmond. Equal access will be a hot topic of discussion within our community as we continue to understand the population we serve, how diverse it is, and how to better serve it. Our resolution for 2017 is resolution for all and taking a step closer to ending homelessness. We hope that you will join in our efforts!