Ark Of Safety LGBTQ+ Safe Haven (AOS), a faith-based housing organization for LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia, will host a forum of discussion and education for issues related to homelessness and housing insecurity in LGBTQ communities.
The two-day “Spring into Action” summit will take place April 18 and 19 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at William Way LGBT Community Center. Ark Of Safety residents will lead workshops and panel discussions, and they will speak on a variety of topics that perpetuate homelessness in LGBTQ communities of color, including substance abuse, trauma, survival sex work, mental health, and systemic racism.
“Hearing the stories of some of our residents coming right off of the streets, [I felt] the need to highlight [them] and to bring awareness to the issue [of homelessness,]” said AOS co-founder Tatyana Woodard, who will be the keynote speaker at the summit. “There is not a lot of focus or research and data on homelessness and housing insecurities within the LGBTQ+ community, especially the trans community. Hopefully this will result in the conversation being broader, but also to start to have some action behind it, finally.”
AOS, which first opened in the fall of 2022, prioritizes providing services to Black and Brown trans individuals, especially trans women. The housing resource provides a weekly nighttime drop-in that includes a hot meal and shower access, emergency shelter services, and a two-year rapid rehousing program for trans people of color.
The target audience for the summit, Woodard said, is the trans and queer community as well as caseworkers, social workers, healthcare providers and frontline workers. Woodard hopes that the stories shared in the summit will help professionals connect better with their clients.
Shyquan Bowie, an AOS resident, will lead a panel discussion on transmasculine people who experience homelessness and housing insecurity, a group of people that is frequently excluded from conversations about trans housing needs.
“Going through my journey and having to experience homelessness and being attacked, I realized that we didn’t have any help,” Bowie said. “We have no shelters here specifically just for trans guys. They say there’s help for trans guys, but you got to jump over and off a cliff to really get these resources.”
Bowie works as a cook for Aramark and runs his own cooking business, Dottie’s Palate, where he makes a variety of different cuisines. Outside of that, he is working toward facilitating shelters for trans men struggling with homelessness in Philly.
“I’m trying to find a way to make it easier for us to get these resources that they’re claiming that we have, and find ways to give resources that I know we don’t have,” Bowie said. “I’m trying to create a space where it’s comfortable for us — trans men of color.”
Articulating his plans out loud and sharing them at the summit are the first steps Bowie is taking to accomplish that goal. “Being in the Ark Of Safety kind of pushed me in that direction, because I realized looking for somewhere for me to have a safe place to rest my head, that we didn’t have any safe places,” he said. “This is the only safe place that I had to rest my head. It saved my life.”
As another mode of sharing the challenges of homelessness and violence among trans and gender nonconforming communities, The Ark Of Safety Documentary will be screened at the Ritz Five at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19. In it, AOS residents discuss their experiences, including Bowie and Chyna Parker. The film also depicts Woodard visiting a well-known sex worker area and discusses her experiences doing survival sex work.
Parker will talk about what it was like to engage in sex work in the trans community “back in the day,” she said. “And the deaths — many of the fallen angels that we’ve lost down there in that night life.”
The subject of trans and queer people who do survival sex work doesn’t often come up, Parker said.
“[The] majority of those in the LGBTQ community that come out, sex work is one of the first things that they seem to turn to as a way of survival,” she explained. “A lot of people are kicked out of their homes [with] nowhere to go just because of them being themselves, and they have to survive. [People] get into sex work and have to do those things in order to provide a meal, maybe get a hotel room for the night, clothes, necessities.”
Parker works for a local nonprofit that supports people who experience housing and food insecurity, where she typically encounters hundreds of people struggling with homelessness daily.
“It’s something that everyone turns a blind eye to and needs to open their eyes up to,” Parker said. “It’s really bad out there, and everyone deserves a roof over their head; no one deserves to sleep on the sidewalk and to have people walk by them and criticize them. That person doesn’t have a choice.”
According to a 2020 report by the Williams Institute, 8% of trans adults experienced homelessness in the previous year, compared with 3% of cisgender sexual minorities. In addition, 17% of sexual minority adults have experienced homelessness in their lives compared to 6% of cishet people, the report showed. The report also indicates unequally higher rates of recent homelessness among Black sexual minority people, but small sample sizes prevented statistical analysis of subgroups of trans and cishet communities.
“LGBTQ people of color are treated differently when it comes to it all,” Parker said. “Tatyana did a great thing with Ark Of Safety. In 2023, it should not be just the Ark Of Safety, this city should have many of these kinds of safe havens for LGBTQ people of color out there.”
Woodard said that in addition to overall housing solutions for LGBTQ and QTBIPOC communities, she would like to see more conversations about maintaining permanent housing for those demographics in a climate of escalating rent prices.
“We’re even exploring the option of possibly [creating] some low-income living facilities for the LGBTQ+ community,” Woodard said. “Rent sustainability is becoming very difficult, not just for the community at large, but for some of us who are providing services.”