An account of trans homelessness: What can we do?

An account of trans homelessness: What can we do?

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For 17 years, Traci Marie Curtis lived in an apartment at Fifth and Carpenter streets.

She rescued countless homeless cats, taking in a few and accommodating the rest in outdoor shelters after having them neutered or spayed. Curtis was a friend to the elderly — they often experience abandonment and loneliness, she noted. She put out her own money to help the needy, human or animal.

To make ends meet, she took on various jobs, which she described as “menial” — even “cleaning latrines.” She wasn’t afraid of hard work.

Estranged from her own family, she created a new one in her gentrifying Queen Village neighborhood. She was also engaged to “a wonderful man” — who, suddenly and sadly, died before they could make it official.

Her landlord never had a problem with the four cats sharing her residence until about two months ago, she said, when they became the reason, at least on paper, that he evicted her.

Curtis, 66, is now living in literal weeds with two of her cats.

She’s not far from her former neighbors — a few of whom check on her and bring her food and clothing.

She challenged her eviction in court and was permitted to stay in her former residence for another month. During that time, she made arrangements with a friend to move into a low-rent facility that accepted pets in Pottsville.

Curtis quickly learned that “low-rent,” in this case, was a condemned building with no running water and a foul odor. After 20 days, she hastened back to the city and took up residence in a lot.

Curtis is certain that money motivated her eviction: Her landlord could get double the rent in the quickly developing neighborhood, she said.

And while her gender identity and age may not have been an issue, these factors — along with her cats — haven’t made it easy to find new housing or, in the aftermath of a recent accident on a SEPTA bus, to get medical care.

One in five transgender people in this nation experiences housing discrimination and homelessness, and at least one in 10 has been evicted because of gender identity, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Despite the national Fair Housing Act prohibiting such discrimination, our states and cities generally lack legislation with strong, explicit language — the kind of language that makes it clear that a landlord can’t toss out a human being because of her/his/their gender identity or sexual preference, among the other factors.

Another of those factors is age. The statistics are clear for LGBTQ young people: Of more than 1.6-million homeless youth in this nation, an estimated 40 percent identify as LGBTQ. The numbers of “T” in that acronym are murkier — and even more so for older trans people.

Several nearby residents have banded together to help Curtis, and even they are finding that most viable housing options are targeted to young adults — and that few are pet-friendly, a deal-breaker for Curtis.

Despite the current administration’s attempts to usurp equal rights, especially for transgender people, Philadelphia remains a terra firma for all identities.

Yet, in this city of top-ranked LGBTQ “friendliness,” home to an estimated 4,500 transgender individuals, whose antidiscrimination laws have included gender identity for 17 years despite the lack of protective state and national legislation, where a transgender Pride flag is flown alongside the rainbow flag at City Hall during special events …

Someone like Curtis — a transgender woman who already endured decades of discrimination, harassment, tragedy and just plain bad luck, but who always had a secure roof over her head — can end up living in overgrown weeds with her faithful furry companions.

She spent a couple nights in the city’s shelters — which, according to Curtis and numerous other local homeless individuals, are often more threatening than the open streets. Former shelter inhabitants talk of rampant drug use, theft and sometimes violence, including sexual violence.

Curtis described the shelter system as “overwhelmed,” with a lack of social workers and facilities, and offering only a very-temporary solution.

Barbara Morrison, a nearby resident who has been Curtis’ angel, has hosted her new friend at her place, bought her clothing and even set up a tent as a shelter from the elements — a tent that a random angry man tore down last week as he harassed and threatened Curtis, calling her a “faggot,” among other names.

Morrison was in tears when she learned of Curtis’ plight.

“When I found her sitting surrounded by weeds on a piece of wooden board … my heart started to race and my mind was saying, How did this happen? As we started to talk, I realized that, through her sweetness and down-to-earth conversation, I must do everything possible to get her and her two cats out of this horrible situation.”

Arrangements were made for two of Curtis’ four beloved felines. Baby and Jimmy remain with her — and rarely stray from her side. She has established a fundraiser — something she never thought she’d have to do — to which an anonymous donor recently gave $2,500.

Despite the donations and a trio of dedicated helpers, it remains a challenge to find a roof for Curtis and her kitties — and many other transpeople face the same challenge, today and every day. 

 

To donate to Traci Marie Curtis, go to bit.ly/tracimariecurtis.


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