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New Rule Expands Transgender People's Access to Homeless Shelters

by Emma Margolin /
A homeless person sits in a subway station near the White House in Washington
A homeless person tries to stay warm at the entrance of a subway station near the White House in Washington on Jan. 20, 2016.Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS file

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Tuesday finalized a regulation allowing transgender people to use federally funded homeless shelters in accordance with their gender identities.

The new rule, which covers all single-sex shelters funded through the HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD), seeks to ease widespread difficulty among the transgender population in accessing single-sex shelters — particularly those for women.

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Transgender people already experience disproportionate rates of homelessness. And according to one study published earlier this year by the Center for American Progress, they also face pervasive anti-trans bias in the process of seeking shelter. Just 30 percent of shelters across four states said they were willing to house transgender women with other women, the study found.

Once rejected from shelters, transgender people often face the difficult choice of living on the streets or going to single-sex facilities that do not match their gender identities, where they’re more vulnerable to abuse or violence.

In a separate survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47 percent of all transgender respondents who had accessed shelters in the past chose to leave those facilities because of the treatment they received there. The survey also found that 25 percent of transgender people who stayed in shelters were physically assaulted by another resident or a member of the staff. Twenty-two percent, meanwhile, were sexually assaulted, according to the survey.

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HUD Secretary Julián Castro hailed the new rule as “another important step to ensure full acceptance of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the programs HUD supports.”

“This new rule will ensure equal access to the very programs that help to prevent homelessness for persons who are routinely forced to choose between being placed in facilities against their gender identity or living on our streets,” Castro said in a statement Tuesday.

LGBT advocates were similarly encouraged by the regulation, which came as the result of years of review. It was initially proposed in 2015.

“As a society, we have a responsibility to help the homeless,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement. “Unfortunately, 1 in 5 transgender people have been homeless at some point — and they deserve to find shelter in a place of safety and dignity, just like anyone else.”