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    Homelessness Is a Major Challenge to LGBT Community

    bevanBy Bevan Dufty

    Every two years, cities that receive federal funding for homeless services are required to conduct a homeless count. In 2013, for the first time, our survey asked if individuals identified as LGBT.

    The results were staggering. Twenty-nine percent of homeless young people, adults and seniors identified as LGBT. For most major cities, 29% would not be a surprising number given that many LGBT youth leave their communities if they are rejected by family or face violence at school or elsewhere. However, most of those cities see dramatic reductions to less than 6% in homelessness among their adult and senior populations.

    When these numbers were released, Mayor Lee asked that HOPE (Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement) partner with city departments and Project Homeless Connect to respond. On October 7th, HOPE, Project Homeless Connect, AIDS Housing Alliance and the LGBT Center held LGBTQ Connect at the Center. Dozens of homeless service and LGBT-focused nonprofits participated alongside key city departments, such as Public Health and the Human Services Agency, among others.

    LGBTQ Connect drew 425 participants and 350 volunteers. It was a watershed in terms of recognizing that homelessness is a priority LGBT issue.

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    Protestors at SF City Hall, PHOTO BY STEVEN UNDERHILL

    We surveyed more than a quarter of participants and learned that many members of our community are a job-loss or housing-loss, or a combination of both, away from becoming homeless.

    We also saw that a significantly higher number of homeless LGBT persons receive Social Security Disability (SSI). For many SSI recipients, there isn’t a defined path to housing. They have to compete for limited affordable housing resources. And these individuals face many barriers that limit their success at securing housing.

    Currently, in order to apply for affordable housing, someone has to pursue each non-profit housing provider individually in order to apply. This is burdensome for people who are already struggling with physical or mental health disabilities. Brian Basinger, Director of the AIDS Housing Alliance, has developed software whereby a caseworker can simultaneously file applications to 10 affordable housing providers simultaneously.

    Recently, Brian demonstrated this software for Mayor Lee’s Chief of Staff, Steve Kawa, and representatives of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. There was widespread support for making this accessibility the City’s new standard. There is also an effort to develop part-time work opportunities for individuals on SSI that will not interfere or disrupt their existing benefits. This could enable a larger cadre of SSI recipients to afford housing.

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    Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence members joined in the protest at SF City Hall. PHOTO BY STEVEN UNDERHILL

    Most of all, our community needs to seek new models that can help people exit homelessness. One such model is North Beach Citizens, which for ten years has provided a neighborhood-based response to homelessness. It offers case management, leading to housing, benefits and/or employment. I have long wanted to see their program expand to include a site in the Castro.

    HandUp.us has also helped members of our community and neighborhood “crowd fund” to help individuals secure housing, dentures, etc. You can visit their profiles and see people you know from the neighborhood. Just donating $10-50 from your smartphone can help change someone’s life.

    In February, we will be holding a policy forum following up on our findings from LGBTQ Connect. If you’re able to become involved, please e-mail christine.keener@sfgov.org and we will include you in all information disseminated in advance of this forum that will be held at the LGBT Center.

    As we work to advance civil rights, the LGBT movement can embrace activism for human rights to ensure that every person is able to have the dignity of housing, support and purpose in a life that isn’t led on the streets

    Bevan Dufty is Director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE) for the City and County of San Francisco. He is a Member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and previously was a Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.