In Greenwich Village near where Stonewall Inn resides, a monument will be built to honor the legacy of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, trailblazers and history-makers for the LGBTQ+ community. Marsha P. Johnson was a black transgender woman and drag queen, whose outspoken activism and radical vision during the Gay Liberation Movement continues to inspire people today.
A monument isn’t the only place bearing her memory. Marsha’s House- operated by the nonprofit Project Renewal- opened on February 15, 2017 to continue to serve the community as Marsha did, by taking in homeless LGBTQ+ young adults. With the added risks and discrimination that they face, Marsha’s House seeks to provide valuable resources and shelter to these LGBTQ+ youth.
According to a report done by the National Institutes of Health, around 62% of homeless LGBTQ+ youth have faced discrimination from their families. Jazmine Pérez, Program Director of Marsha’s House, stressed the importance of having a “safe space dedicated to [LGBTQ+ homeless youth]” as “New York City had never had housing tailored to their needs.”
These youth face particular adversities that are further complicated when alternative housing options do not have the facilities to aid them or are outright discriminatory towards them. A study done by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows that 41% of homeless and runaway LGBTQ+ adolescents they interviewed have major depression, in comparison to 28% of homeless heterosexual adolescents interviewed.
Marsha’s House boasts a variety of programs catered towards some of the issues that LGBTQ+ individuals face. Pérez outlines services which include “referrals to legal supportive services, education, healthcare, and employment programs.”
Additionally, clients that come to Marsha’s House are assured personalized living arrangements that assist each individual in finding employment and housing. “Our Case Managers and Peer Counselors meet with clients to ensure compliance with their individual living plan. They work closely with our Job Developer, Vocational Counselor, and Housing Coordinator to secure employment and housing.”
Concerns over Covid-19 pandemic are ever prevalent in the context of shared living facilities, like homeless shelters. However, Marsha’s House eases some of this concern by screening potential clients for the virus, enforcing social distancing, and cutting down accommodation from 81 beds to 60 in its 5-floor-walk-up facility. The facility maintains 20 rooms of various sizes, from single rooms to larger rooms that accommodate up to 6 people.
But Covid-19 hasn’t been the only adversity Marsha’s House has faced in recent years. The Trump administration has continued to be a source of disparaging policies and remarks against the LGBTQ+ community. On July 23, 2020, the Department of Housing and Urban Development formally announced a proposal that would reverse the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which warrants protection for homeless transgender people against discrimination by homeless shelters and other federally funded alternative housing.
This comes as a setback and large blow to the transgender community. A 2015 survey done by The National Center for Transgender Equality shows that “70% of respondents who stayed in a shelter in the past year reported some form of mistreatment, including being harassed, sexually or physically assaulted, or kicked out because of being transgender.” The HUD’s rollback on the Equal Access Rule would only serve to undo the progress that has been made to make homeless shelters safer to the marginalized people that need them.
“The rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration have disregarded the very identities of our clients and staff, especially when it comes to the intersectionality of our existence,” said Pérez. “Speaking personally, as a woman of color with trans experience, I feel like I have three strikes against me in the eyes of this administration.”
Despite these incredible challenges they face, Marsha’s House continues to receive equally incredible help- from the support coming from their progressive state of New York to the generous donors that help fund Project Renewal, to the operations staff that help run things every single day. “Our Marsha’s House Heroes are our operations staff. As essential workers, they have not skipped a beat with reporting to work and providing the support our clients needed. Being that we are a shelter, we operate 24/7/365, and our operations staff members are always here for their full 8-hour shifts.”