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Housing and Homelessness

The Bumpy Road To Housing For Transgender and Other Gender Non-Conforming People Experiencing Homelessness

A hand draws a dark wavy line that weaves through a handful of icons representing people. The line creates a chasm between the people. One side of the line is yellow, the other is blue.
“The reality is the institutions that we have within our society are not designed to support people like myself, like us,” said Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition.
(Illustration by Alborz Kamalizad / LAist / Photograph by Fabian Centeno / Unsplash)
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For many transgender and nonbinary unhoused people dealing with medical conditions, the road to housing is often met with barriers such as a lack of options available for housing.

Those barriers include sometimes not feeling safe because of their gender identity at facilities they’re placed at, leaving them with the choice of taking it or being unhoused. Many also feel they lack autonomy in health-making decisions.

“The reality is the institutions that we have within our society are not designed to support people like myself, like us,” said Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition. “In fact, shelters, hospitals and even correctional facilities are sex based, meaning whatever you have between your legs is where you’re going to go.”

L.A. County’s Dept. of Mental Health will often place people in facilities where they can receive care and have access to housing, but some transgender or gender non-conforming people may not always feel safe or feel the conditions are subpar.

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A spokesperson for the L.A. County Dept. of Mental Health said in a statement they are committed to promoting the wellbeing and resilience of LGBTQ+ individuals and communities, and providing culturally-sensitive and competent mental health services to their clients.

“If a client is dissatisfied with their current housing arrangements they can request a change of rooms in the same facility or request placement in a different facility,” the statement read. “Every effort will be made to meet that request.”

But some sources have said the opposite. One transgender individual told LAist they were placed at a motel overrun with bed bugs. They were eventually moved to another facility, but then said they were threatened by other patients and called homophobic slurs.

With election season nearing, Salcedo said trans-led organizations are working to hold officials accountable to make access to healthcare more equitable.

“They are public servants and they need to develop policies and programs that support our community,” Salcedo said, adding they are pushing to pass a new Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund, a bill in the California legislature that focuses on trans-inclusive health that includes medical, behavioral and spiritual care.

Shelters, hospitals and even correctional facilities are sex based, meaning whatever you have between your legs is where you’re going to go.
— Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of The TransLatin@ Coalition

Salcedo said a big obstacle to getting money targeted for transgender issues is Prop 209, or the California Civil Rights Initiative, a 1996 ballot amendment that effectively banned affirmative action in California and prohibited state governmental institutions, in part, from giving preferential treatment based on race, sex or ethnicity. There was a measure on the November 2020 ballot to repeal Prop 209, but it failed.

Even if the Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund passes, it was through compromise: language had to be added that stipulated 65% of the people an organization served must be trans, gender nonconforming or intersex, if they want access to the funds. Otherwise, it would violate Prop 209, which also hinders getting targeted to help to Black people experiencing homelessness despite disproportionately representing the unhoused population.

Salcedo acknowledged that many people who identify as transgender or nonbinary don’t always have the privilege of engaging with elected officials and being able to advocate for themselves.

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“Many of us are struggling to have a roof over our heads and where we are going to sleep or eat,” Salcedo said. “We need to make sure those resources are there for our community. We’re organizing and strategizing and we’re building power in our movement.”