by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Once again for the second time in a row, San Francisco’s biannual Point in Time Homeless Count reveals that 29% of those surveyed identify as LGBT.
It’s not surprising. Little is being done to address the poverty and homelessness that exists in the LGBT community despite the fact that two homeless people have died on the streets of the Castro, the world’s most famous queer neighborhood. In both instances, people continued to walk past their dead bodies for hours after they passed on, as if they were invisible, which studies show the homeless truly are.
The outcry over one of those homeless deaths, a transgender woman who was well known in the Castro, subsided in less than the proverbial 15 minutes and resulted in no action on the part of the mainstream LGBT movement.
It’s not just a local problem. Two Williams Institute studies and a report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition on Homelessness show that poverty and homelessness in the LGBT community are, unfortunately, flourishing. In terms of homeless youth, a staggering 20-40% across the country report that they are queer.
While the LGBT community was pouring big bucks and endless resources into winning the right to walk down the aisle and say I Do, the poor and homeless have been all but left to fend for themselves in a society that treats them as pariahs and criminals, even here in San Francisco where someone can be fined or arrested for merely sitting or sleeping on a sidewalk. Ironically, the 70s version of that law was used against gay men in the Castro, prompting Harvey Milk to speak out against it. How soon the merchants, who overwhelmingly support the current sit/lie, forget.
Fortunately, there are efforts to help queer homeless and poor folks in the city by the bay. The AIDS Housing Alliance routinely houses homeless people with HIV. Larkin Street Youth Services runs a hotel program (about 22 rooms) for homeless queer youth. Jazzie’s Place, a 24-bed LGBT shelter for LGBT homeless adults, and Marty’s Place, a Community Land Trust six-bedroom coop for low-income people with AIDS, recently opened in the Mission area last month. Open House, a 110-unit affordable housing complex, is being built for low-income LGBT seniors and will open next year.
While certainly helpful, these efforts are not enough. What’s really needed is a war on poverty and homelessness within the community. That means a commitment on the part of mainstream LGBT organizations to make this war number one on their “gay agenda.” Equality is about everyone in the community having a roof over their heads and the means to be self sufficient.
Despite what people are saying, the LGBT community hasn’t arrived because the Supremes recognize our right to marry. As the latest San Francisco homeless count indicates, we still have a very very long way to go.