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Federal rule change will harm transgender youth experiencing homelessness

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A message from Mark Redmond, Spectrum’s executive director, and Dana Kaplan, executive director at Outright Vermont.

On Aug, 6 the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it is proposing changes to the Equal Access Rule passed under President Obama in 2016 to protect homeless individuals who identify as transgender. The rule that is in effect now requires any homeless shelter receiving HUD funds to house homeless people according to their gender identity. What HUD Secretary Ben Carson is now proposing would allow such shelters to refuse to house transgender individuals.

Spectrum Youth and Family Services and Outright Vermont vehemently oppose this change, which would have devastating effects on the lives of already disproportionately targeted people. Trans individuals are more likely to be homeless than any other demographic, with one in three becoming homeless at some point in their lifetime. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, most of these homeless people will be youth between the ages of 18 and 24. At Spectrum, we house as many as 26 homeless youth on any given night during the winter, and last year 23% identified themselves as transgender. 

Spectrum’s winter warming shelter is a temporary shelter for youth ages 18-24. The shelter operates in the basement of St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral in Burlington, from November to March.

While the proposed rule change does state that shelters who refuse a transgender person must refer that individual to another shelter that will accept them, that is on many fronts a totally unrealistic solution. In many communities, especially rural ones such as here in Vermont, it is only that one shelter which exists; there is no other shelter to which they can be referred. Where multiple shelters exist, they are frequently full. And capacity aside, they too could refuse to house that person based on their trans identity. 

We are well aware of the ways that government-sanctioned discriminatory practices leave LGBTQ+ youth with little hope, equity, or power. At Outright Vermont, 20% of the youth we see are high needs, navigating housing instability or homelessness, substance use, food insecurity, and mental health challenges – many of these circumstances route directly back to unsupportive and rejecting families. Young trans people are forced to navigate health, housing, and education systems that are (most often) by default inaccessible and failing to serve all of our identities. Our collective responsibility, most especially in the midst of this global pandemic, is to change that reality. Their lives quite literally depend on it. 

There is time to avert this disastrous rule change. There is a comment period that runs through Sept. 22, and HUD is legally required to write a response to each unique comment before it is able to implement a final rule. You can register your opposition to this dangerous and discriminatory change. If you wish to do so, please click on the website of the nonprofit organization Housing Saves Lives.

Even if the federal government were to threaten the withdrawal of every dollar our organizations receive, we would choose to forfeit that money in order to continue serving any youth in need, transgender or otherwise.  At Spectrum and Outright Vermont, we have their backs and always will.

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