Being a trans individual can be extremely difficult in our society even without the added stress of homelessness and housing insecurity. There is a lot of misunderstandings and ignorance about trans people and what it means to be trans and this lack of understanding often leads to transphobia, which can make day to day lives of trans people difficult if they don’t have the proper support systems. The issues that are faced by trans individuals in our society are often only further exacerbated when these individuals are experiencing homelessness. While there is little research done on gay and lesbian homelessness, there is even less information out there about trans experiences of homelessness. Homelessness can be an extremely precarious situation for trans individuals as they already have an increased risk of experiencing physical and sexual violence in their everyday lives and these risks are increased for trans individuals who are living on the streets or in precarious housing situations.
First of all, many staff at homeless shelters are not trained to understand what it means to be a trans individual and how to address the needs of trans people, and this is a major source of discomfort for trans people who are experiencing homelessness. The Young Street Mission running out of Toronto explains that many of the services that exist to help homeless youth express difficulty in serving trans youth. The fact that many shelters segregate residents by birth sex can cause discomfort for trans individuals if the shelters in question are not placing trans youth with the sex that they identify with. Placing trans individuals with individuals of their birth sex as opposed to those that match their gender identity can often lead to increased rates of physical and sexual violence for trans individuals in the shelter system. Another issue that trans people face in the shelter system is being mislabeled in terms of the pronouns they are being addressed by. When staff are uneducated in the needs and experiences of trans people they may not know how to properly address trans youth which can be extremely damaging to their self esteem and mental health especially for those who experience extreme gender dysphoria.
Trans youth who are homeless also have different health needs that may not necessarily be met if they are living on the streets. Homeless trans youth may not have access to hormone treatments especially if they have lost access to health insurance or if they don’t have a health card. This can be especially difficult for individuals who have already begun transition treatments before becoming homeless because this may force them to stop treatments which can be bad for their physical health or they may have to find alternate ways of getting the treatments that they need. Trans individuals who cannot afford to access safe and reliable medical treatment are at a higher risk of taking dangerous or illegal measures to gain the treatments that they want or need.
The issues faced by trans individuals in the shelter system can be even worse for FTM trans individuals. FTM trans individuals experiencing homelessness have expressed that they were not welcome in either shelters specifically for women or in shelters for men which means that in many cases these individuals have nowhere to go but the streets or are forced to resort to couch surfing or performing sex acts in exchange for temporary shelter and none of these options are overly safe. It is extremely important for existing shelters to begin to implement policy that makes shelters safer for trans individuals especially for individuals who may be turned away from gender specific shelters which can happen frequently if shelters don’t understand the experiences of trans individuals.