There has been a sharp increase in the number of LGBTQ individuals personally experiencing discrimination across the United States, according to a recent report from GLAAD – 24 percent over a two-year period. There have also been legislative efforts to institutionalize discriminatory and harmful treatment of LGBTQ individuals over the last two years. According to the report, nearly 250 bills were introduced in state legislatures curtailing the rights of LGBTQ individuals or restricting access to information (e.g., books, classroom content) supportive of LGBTQ individuals.
In the face of rising discrimination, the field must ensure homeless service programs and systems are working in a positive direction. How do we creating programs and services that are affirming, welcoming, equitable, and safe places for LGBT individuals experiencing homelessness and reduce the disparities likely present in our own system?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) outlines a few key steps.
LGBTQ Assistance as a HUD CoC NOFO Priority
The CoC NOFO competition lays out the expectation that CoCs will take the lead to ensure LGBTQ individuals are appropriately served across homeless service programs. Collaborative applicants will receive up to 7 points in their score by demonstrating:
- LGBTQ+ serving organizations or advocacy groups are included in the CoC membership;
- annual trainings are conducted for providers about how to effectively implement Equal Access Rules;
- they have implemented and trained providers on a CoC-wide, anti-discrimination policy ensuring that LGBTQ+ individuals and families receive supportive services, shelter, and housing free from discrimination;
- their CoC-wide anti-discrimination policy is updated (as necessary) based on stakeholder feedback;
- the CoC has assisted providers in developing agency anti-discrimination policies that are consistent with the CoC wide anti-discrimination policy; and
- the CoC has a process for evaluating compliance with the CoC’s anti-discrimination policies and addresses any non-compliance with those policies.
In addition, to address equity, CoCs should reach out to organizations led by and serving LGBTQ individuals within the geographic area. This includes having an invitation process for new diverse organizations to join the CoC (1 point) and demonstrating inclusive CoC membership of a variety of stakeholders (2 points).
What Can CoCs Do Now?
It has been a busy and difficult couple of years for CoC members and leaders. Many intended activities – including trainings for CoC members, updating nondiscrimination policies, and reaching out to new partners to ensure a more inclusive and CoC membership – may have fallen by the wayside. But there may still be time to act in the short-term if CoC have the bandwith to do so. Among other activities, CoC leaders can:
- issue overtures to potential partner organizations to join the CoC membership and build the CoC’s expertise in assisting LGBTQ+ individual experiencing homelessness;
- schedule a time with providers and people with lived experience to review the CoC’s nondiscrimination policies and solicit input on how they can be updated;
- develop a process for monitoring noncompliance with nondiscrimination policies; and
- schedule trainings for providers on the Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Rule, and the Equal Access in Accordance with an Individual’s Gender Identity in Community Planning and Development Programs Rule.
What Can CoCs Do Next?
Short-term actions may help CoCs improve their score on the CoC NOFO application, but the true intent of rewarding CoCs that meet these criteria is to incentivize localities to improve the quality of assistance all people experiencing homelessness receive. We know LGBTQ+ youth are at heightened risk of homelessness. Studies have shown the extraordinary violence that unsheltered transgender individuals experience. Ensuring LGBTQ+ individuals have access to high quality, equitable, affirming, and safe services and housing is simply the right thing to do, regardless of the extra application points it may confer.