Two years have passed since transgender woman and former mayoral candidate Jennifer Gale died on the steps of a Austin Church. Jennifer's serenades often preceded council appearances and her notoriety spurred a outcry and a memorial was held. It was so very, very cold at her memorial on that grey Austin day but sadly her death has yielded no concrete results. The publicly funded homeless city shelter the ARCH, still offers no overnight accommodations to transgender woman.
Please watch at least a few minutes for Jennifer.
In a email response Charles Kemp, Office of the Director, Austin/Travis County HHSD stated that the city funded homeless shelter ARCH does not allow transgender people to overnight, have a transgender written transgender policy or separate facilities to insure safety of transgender people should they take advantage of the 'day sleepers' program.
According to Natasha Ponczek, Homeless Program Coordinator at City of Austin to the best of her knowledge there are no plans to make facility changes at the ARCH to accommodate transgender people. Phone calls to Helen Varty Executive director of ARCH were not returned.
Salvation Army Shelter only hope.
The only place for a transgender person faced with deathly cold would be the Salvation Army's Austin Shelter for Women and Children which receives funding from the city. According to shelter director Cathey Ridings the Austin shelter does have '....a policy against gender discrimination including sexual orientation and gender identity.'
Licence verifying your stated gender required.
According to Ridings there is no written policy defining the procedures staff would follow should a transender person request overnight accommodations, but said a licence or similar documentation would be required that aligned with the persons stated gender expression prior to admittance to the women's shelter.
When I commented that the Salvation Army nationwide has a reputation for turning away transgender people. Ridings said things were different in Austin and people were a little more accepting.
I applaud Cathey Ridings for her powerful love of people but without written policy there is no standard of care.
Lisa Scheps of the local transgender group TENT replied when questioned about the lack of transgender homeless facilities "We have been working with local homeless shelters since Jennifer died. Currently the only agency with beds for single women is the Salvation Army and I have been working closely with them to try to get them to be a bit more trans inclusive… they are trying. But currently there are only 47 beds for single women… So we continue to work. And, yes, it IS discriminatory and we are working on changing things."
Two years past and many cold nights.
It is a travesty the cities 100% funded shelter remains without a written policy and
ongoing training of staff. This is a disastrous combination for transgender people especially queer youth. Because of traumatic circumstances that lead them there all ways leave emotional unstable and a misgendering, even innocently intentionally by staff could push the transgender person out the safety of the shelter seeking the shameless anonymity of a church walkway and death like Jenifer Gale on that starry, starry night.
I cry for the unnecessary senseless lose of you Jenifer and am shameful that we have not done better since your death. RIP dear Jenifer.