America’s First LGBT Shelter Launched In SF

by Kylie Cheung

On Wednesday, the country’s first homeless shelter for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults opened in the Mission District of San Francisco, a city where nearly 29 percent of homeless individuals identify as LGBT. The shelter is called Jazzie's Place after the late Jazzie Collins, a transgender woman and advocate for the LGBT homeless. With awareness about the plight of the LGBT community on the rise, America's First LGBT Homeless Shelter could and should be the first of many.

Although homeless shelters specifically for LGBT youth (who form 40 percent of the United States' homeless youth) already exist, Jazzie's Place is the first one to specifically serve LGBT adults. Statistics indicate that 43 percent of clients at drop-in shelters identify as LGBT, and are more likely to be misplaced or sexually abused, especially if they are transgender.

According to Tommi Avicolli Mecca, the director of counseling programs at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, the idea of a homeless shelter specifically for LGBT homeless adults first came to Collins' mind in 2010. In a statement released Thursday, David Campos, supervisor on San Francisco's legislative board, said that the "queer-friendly" homeless shelter has been in development for the past five years. "Our homeless LGBT residents deserve to feel safe and welcomed in our shelter system, and the opening of Jazzie's Place is an important milestone," Campos stated.

Jazzie's Place could not have opened at a better time, as national attention for issues surrounding LGBT rights has arguably never been greater. The Supreme Court is prepared to release a ruling on same-sex marriage later in June, while Caitlyn Jenner's recent interview with Vanity Fair inspired the transgender community and attracted admiration and support from influential celebrities and ordinary Americans alike. The homeless shelter's location in San Francisco is also notable, as it was a San Francisco federal judge who ruled that sex reassignment surgery was medically necessary for Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a transgender inmate at a California prison.

The explosion of LGBT issues in the media has contributed to greater acceptance and support of LGBT rights. However, not many stories tend to raise awareness about the harassment and sexual violence homeless or incarcerated LGBT individuals endure in appalling numbers. The launching of Jazzie's Place will hopefully shine light on the plight of the LGBT homeless. Wendy Phillips, Jazzie's Place's current director, stated on Wednesday that the new shelter will be a space where all guests are treated with "dignity and respect," and it is this vision of protecting and respecting homeless individuals who identify as LGBT that could and should inspire similar homeless shelters to emerge across the country.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

We can only hope that the launching of a homeless shelter specifically dedicated to protecting homeless LGBT adults will serve as a reminder that as far as we've come, we still have a ways to go in terms of LGBT rights. The creation of Jazzie's Place is indeed a remarkable milestone, but at the same time, it demonstrates that on the streets and in most adult homeless shelters, LGBT individuals are still victimized to the extent that they must be segregated for their own safety.

As disheartening as the plight of homeless LGBT individuals may be, the rallying of different restaurants and other members of the San Francisco-based community to fund and support Jazzie's Place, and ultimately, the vision the shelter was built on, are certainly encouraging. The homeless shelter was a $1.5 million project funded by both the city of San Francisco and private donors. It is currently open to those over 21 years of age in need of shelter. Occupants can stay for up to 90 days, as the shelter currently has only 24 beds.

Images: Tom Hilton/Flickr (1); Getty Images (1)