The city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services is spearheading the creation of a residential treatment facility, named Morris Home, that will provide holistic, comprehensive services for transgender and gender-variant individuals.
The facility could open in a temporary location as early as next month, as plans for its permanent site are finalized.
Morris Home will be funded by the city and run by Resources for Human Development, a national nonprofit social-service organization headquartered in Philadelphia.
The venture will be the first of its kind in the nation, said Sade Ali, DBHIDS deputy commissioner.
Ali said she began planning for the facility about three years ago.
“In my past clinical work, I came upon some transgender and gender-variant folks who were marginalized in care, and when I came to Philadelphia I met a very large group of transgender and gender-variant folks who told me stories of being maligned, abused, made to present as the gender they did not align with,” Ali said. “People are being made to fit into care rather than the care being tailored to meet their needs.”
Morris Home will be an 18-bed facility that Ali cautioned does not function as a shelter, but rather as a true treatment facility with services for individuals experiencing an array of challenges.
“There are some programs that only treat mental-health challenges like depression, but we’re going to also treat areas like trauma, which is prevalent in transgender and gender-variant populations, alcohol or drug challenges, and we’ll have a physical-health program connected as well,” Ali said, noting that Morris Home will be able to connect residents with safe hormone treatment and other treatments at federally qualified health centers. “We’re looking forward to offering a holistic program, like health reform is saying we should be doing. You shouldn’t offer behavioral-health services without the physical-health services as well and vice versa. And given the challenges people in this community have, we’re also going to be doing things related to employment and vocational services as well as some housing issues. We’re going to be extremely holistic in our approach.”
Services will be provided both for and by trans community members, as Ali said Morris Home will enlist transgender professionals to helm many of the facility’s programs.
The facility itself will offer private efficiencies with shared kitchens, bathrooms and other community spaces.
The length of stay will be variable based on the needs of the individual, Ali said.
“We’re not going to just move people through the system quickly to get them in and out but rather work with them on their own pace,” Ali said. “When they do transition to another level of care or out into the community, it’ll be with the full support of the Morris Home.”
Local trans activist Jaci Adams is among the community members who were brought to the table several years ago for the planning process.
Adams said Morris Home is “gravely important” for the community, but noted that the facility will not be a “cakewalk” for those who use its services.
“It’s not going to be the type of place where you’re just housed with yesterday’s issues,” she said. “If you don’t have your GED, you’ll work toward it. If you have a substance-abuse problem, you’ll work on that. The hope is to restore dignity in the transgender community. A lot of us in the trans community weren’t afforded the equal opportunities as everyone else, so this can let trans men and women know that they are able to work toward gainful employment and education and that there is a place that welcomes them and accepts them.”
Trans activist Kathy Padilla agreed the services that will be offered are “desperately needed,” but said it’s unfortunate they have to be offered separately from mainstream services.
“The reason this is segregated is because discrimination is rampant in city services,” Padilla said. “If the city is not enforcing its nondiscrimination law, there should be oversight and agencies that should have their contracts revoked. Right now we’re not seeing the integration we’d like to see.”
The location of the proposed site has not yet been announced, but Ali said organizers have run into some pushback from neighbors in the area.
“We’re having some challenges with the community because some people don’t understand who the group of folks are who will be taking advantage of the services at Morris Home,” Ali said. “But we are going to be working to educate the community so that the people who will be using these services will feel safe in the community.”
Adams commended Ali for her perseverance in seeing the proposal through to near-fruition.
“A lot of people have been working on this for years and ran into some snags and got discouraged, but Sade and the RHD staff really have had the backbone, passion and genuine spirit for the trans community to make this happen.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.