Caring for LGBTQ folks experiencing poverty

Thanksgiving is all about sharing with others and being grateful. The November holiday heralds the season of giving — Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice or just the year’s end tax credits. Thanksgiving is when people begin to open their wallets.

Philadelphia needs to share and give. One of the most economically challenged cities, one in four Philly residents experiences poverty, which the federal government defines as $12,490 for one person in 2019. Philadelphia also has the highest rate of people experiencing deep poverty, defined as 50 percent of the poverty level or less. More than 12 percent of Philadelphians experience deep poverty. More than a third — 36.4 percent — of Philadelphians earn $25,000 or less.

Another grim statistic culled from several investigative pieces I have done this year for PGN and other publications is that LGBTQ people are more likely to experience poverty than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Media representations of wealthy LGBTQ people is largely a myth hiding what no one wants to see: homophobia and transphobia cause economic hardship.

According to various studies, LGBT people are at least twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to experience poverty. Lesbians, bisexual women and trans women face the most risk, but LGBT people overall suffer from significantly more economic challenges than their heterosexual peers, whether as individuals or in couples. LGBTQ people of color experience the most poverty.

Discrimination in every aspect of LGBTQ lives is one defining reason that people experience economic hardship. LGBTQ people also experience high levels of interpersonal violence, which can lead to financial challenges and homelessness.

Philadelphia’s Gayborhood is populated with pricey shops and boutique restaurants. Yet over the years that I have done stories on LGBTQ homelessness, as close as Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square, the Parkway, the subway at 11th and Market, and the Concourse at 15th and JFK,  you can find LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness and sleeping rough at any given time.

Many are young people separated from their families of origin because of being queer; trans women who struggle to find work; older lesbians and gay men in longterm relationships who lose half their incomes — and maybe their homes — when a partner dies. Some are couch surfing from one friend or acquaintance to another. Others are participating in survival sex work. Still others are panhandling. None should be living in such desperate circumstances.

So here we are at Thanksgiving, and now you know, if you didn’t already, how many people are experiencing poverty right now in Philadelphia. As you ponder the meaning of the season, what can you do to help?

Work with friends suffering from substance abuse problems. Many LGBTQ people self-medicate to deal with the trauma of homophobia and transphobia. But substance abuse is the leading cause of homelessness. Don’t just be an onlooker as our community members struggle with addiction.

Help people experiencing homelessness find shelter and care. Don’t just walk past people or shove a dollar at them and keep going. Stop and ask where they are living and what they need. Many people experiencing homelessness resist the shelter system. But it is one path to getting off the streets and into permanent housing with a steady income and help with mental health conditions or substance abuse, if necessary. Project HOME does essential work in Philadelphia with people experiencing homelessness. Mercy Hospice for Women is right in the heart of the Gayborhood.

Volunteer. MANNA feeds people with HIV/AIDS and cancer as well as helping LGBTQ folks and other people in need. Studies have shown people receiving help from MANNA are less likely to be hospitalized.

Donate. Choose a charity that helps LGBTQ people and give what you can.

These are, of course, all selective stop-gap measures. Broader structural change is needed to end poverty and the reasons for it. But in the interim, Thanksgiving is here, and with it, the season of giving. We can all do something to help LGBTQ Philadelphians experiencing poverty and economic hardship. And that is something to be grateful for — that we have the power to give, the willingness to share and places that need our help to help others. For that, we can and should be truly thankful.

MANNA: 215-496-2662

Project HOME: 215-232-7272

Mercy Hospice: 215-545-5153

Attic Youth Center: 215-545-4331

Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services: 215-232-1984