New Trans Pride Initiative program allows people to host or room with others who don’t have a place to live
After years of harassment and death threats for living as a transgender woman in Paris, Texas, Jodielynn Wiley finally escaped that environment when she came to Dallas in February.
Wiley, who lived in the conservative town about 100 miles northeast of Dallas for 23 years, said she couldn’t take the death threats anymore.
She transitioned in 2009, and after living in Paris for so long, she said many people like her landlord accepted her transition. But others stopped letting her care for their horses and some took their distaste for trans people to deadly measures by leaving dead animals on her front porch.
When Wiley was a year into her transition, some teens approached her and one of them raised his hands toward her. She said she pushed him away to prevent him from hitting her. When she called police the officer told her “being the way you are you should expect that” treatment. From then on, she didn’t feel safe and didn’t trust police to handle the death threats that later followed.
“That’s the typical redneck bigotry,” Wiley said. “They don’t care to understand [about being transgender].”
Now at the Salvation Army in Dallas, Wiley said she feels safer, but her time at the shelter is running out. Her 30-day stay at the shelter was extended, and she now has until April 21 to find housing.
Blake Fetterman, operations director at Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, said the Salvation Army shelter is an emergency shelter, so the 30-day limit allows time for people to come in and either be referred to another shelter or find a housing program. She said extensions are given to people who feel comfortable at the shelter and would prefer not to go somewhere else while they make other arrangements.
Wiley is hoping to be one of the first people to benefit from a new program of Trans Pride Initiative, the Dallas Trans* Shared Housing Project.
Under the project, people can open their homes to trans and gender-nonconforming people who need temporary or long-term housing, TPI President Nell Gaither said.
“I don’t know how many people are going to want to take someone in for fear of getting in a desperate or venerable situation, but I’m hoping we can overcome that hesitancy,” Gaither said.
She called the program an experiment because she’s testing how it would work. She’s looking for people who have housing available and would offer a rent that someone can afford. She also is looking for trans people who are looking for roommates so they can find places together and share the cost.
Gaither has been helping Wiley find housing or transitional funding. She said she’s found it difficult to help trans people find housing because programs are so specific and can be tricky to navigate if you’re not on the inside and know how the programs work. She said many have waiting lists for nine to 18 months, during which people can move from shelter to shelter. But some shelters have priority for domestic violence victims or other situations.
“It’s so frustrating with ‘Well, you don’t quite fit the qualifications’ or somebody doesn’t give you a call back, which may just be that they’re busy,” Gaither said. “But some of it could be transphobia. I think there are a lot of other reasons. That’s totally not the single reason that people are not getting in a shelter.”
The difficulty in finding housing options where trans people feel comfortable and safe led Gaither to launch the Shared Housing Project this month.
“It always seems really daunting to call different places and say ‘Would this person fit in here?’” she said. “I kind of thought let’s provide a different type of opportunity if we can, which would secure housing if people would be willing to share where they’re living or are looking for roommates to offer them a pathway to that.”
Shelters in Dallas, like the Salvation Army, are welcoming of trans people, but some don’t provide a comfortable atmosphere where all gender nonconforming people would feel accepted.
Charlotte Baker, marketing coordinator at the Austin Street Center, said the shelter doesn’t have a nondiscrimination or trans policy, but it is open to trans people. She said the staff often goes by the gender people self-identify as, adding that since the showers are open, it could make trans people uncomfortable.
“It’s one of those things that we haven’t addressed yet, but we want to,” Baker said. “Everyone is welcome here.”
Jay Dunn, president and CEO of The Bridge, said transgender people have been covered under the shelter’s nondiscrimination policy since the shelter opened in 2008.
“We do include them in our protections and anti-discrimination sections,” Dunn said. “And with regard to the shelter sections, people stay with the gender based on self-identification. “
Gaither eventually wants to open the program to the whole LGBT community, but she said the focus is on trans people because they have a higher rate of homelessness.
One in five trans people have experienced homelessness at some time in their lives because of discrimination and family rejection, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Of those, 29 percent of homeless trans people have been turned away from a shelter because they are trans, and 42 percent reported having to reside with the wrong gender while at a shelter.
The Dallas program would provide Wiley with a roof over her head where she could contribute to a household and not have to go to different shelters or ask for an extension at the Salvation Army.
Any home would be a blessing, she said, but since she’s worked with horses in the past, she said she’d like to stay at a place where she could care for the horses to help the person who’s offering her a home.
Gaither said she knows one person who’s thinking about offering housing for the program and another handful of trans people who would eventually use the program.
For Wiley, who would do anything not to go back to Paris, she said she’d exhaust all of her options before returning to a place that no longer feels like home.
“I sure don’t want to go back,” she said. “It’d be like going back to hell.”
Applications for people needing housing and people offering housing can be found online at tpride.org/sharedhousing.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2014.
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