As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s important for all homeless service systems, leaders, and providers to remember that Black history and its legacy should be remembered at all points of the year – especially how Black leaders and advocates contribute the mission to end homelessness.
This work often comes with challenges related to race and identity. For Black people experiencing homelessness, being transgender, unsheltered, and a woman adds additional risk: Black trans people experiencing homelessness face increased vulnerabilities, including being attacked while homeless, being forced to do things they don’t want to do, and facing legal issues. They also average more system interactions with medical staff or police than white trans individuals experiencing homelessness.
Even with these risks, the experience of being a Black trans woman, for many, is one of pride and celebration.
The Alliance spoke with Tamika Jones, member of the Alliance’s Consumer Advisory Board, about her lived experiences and advocacy efforts. She shares her hope and solidarity with trans women on the streets, and is working to provide support to those in similar situations to hers:
As a Black trans woman, [leadership on housing and homelessness issues] is definitely needed because a lot of girls like me, they have nowhere to stay. It’s hard – it’s hard all over the world, but I can only speak for where I’m at in New Orleans, where I’m from and born and raised. To me personally, every woman, every queen deserves her own house – as they say, her own castle. It gives people some type of relief where they can know that they’re being somewhere where they’re safe, somewhere where they don’t have to worry about a person trying to hurt them or harm them.
I have tried to get in touch with so many trans, Black women and just [homeless] people in general – I am partnered with UNITY of Greater New Orleans, and so we try to help as many people [as we can] – I’m also partnered with Rainbow Friends. And we’re trying to kind of get things at a point where [….] it’s not a struggle to get housing, it’s not a struggle to get what you exactly need.… [With Rainbow Friends], we basically try to go into the community and even if we see anybody that is not of the LGBT community, we let them know that there is a program where you can try to get in if you’re homeless.
A lot of Black trans women, they are dying. So if I can come in contact with any Black trans woman – or any trans woman – I’m friendly. I’m a people person. I love to talk to people, I love to embrace people. Just make sure that you embrace me back.
I would let people know as much as possible – when I come across people – trans, non [gender] conforming, anybody to let them know, “hey, this is a place you might wanna check out.” I can’t force anything on anybody, but the thing is – I can give them some information, I can give them a suggestion. So I try to open my arms to people and just let them know – “hey, I went through the struggle, we’re all going through some type of struggle, but it’s going to be alright.”
I want to see people really be able to be comfortable, and to get to a place where they feel comfortable, where they don’t feel neglected, where they don’t feel outed. I feel good that I did go through my struggle: I was homeless, but it came out – it was a blessing.
[For] Black trans women, trans women in general [who are] homeless, [I’d like to] let them know to continue to live their truth and continue to stay strong, and to keep God first, honestly. Because it’s a hard struggle, but just to let them know that they’re not alone. They are not alone, at all.
I am celebrating not just Black history, but I’m celebrating life… I just think about where I’ve come from, you know, then to now, so I cheer myself back up. I’m proud of just seeing the work, seeing the progress: I’m not just working for myself, I’m working for the LGBT community, I’m working for trans women, Black trans women, white trans women, Spanish trans women – all trans women, all women, period. I’m working towards something that is bigger than me. Something that is bigger than me. I’m not in this for fame, I’m not in it for money, I’m not in it for riches, I’m in it because I want to see life better – not just for myself, but for all people.
Every day, just living is, to me [that] I’m making history as a black person, as a black trans woman, a black woman, period. So I think I’m making history every day – not just for one particular one month, or once a year. I’m living history every day of my life.