San Francisco reaching out to LGBT homeless population 

click to enlarge homelessness
  • Justin Sullivan/2009 Getty Images file photo
  • Nearly one-third of people living on San Francisco streets are LGBT, according to the most recent homelessness tally. Today’s Project LGBTQ Connect will reach provide services to the homeless LGBT population.
Older people with careers and successful lives, in perfect mental health and sober as judges, living out of their cars and in parks. These are not your archetypal homeless people — but they are becoming more typical in San Francisco.

As The City’s rents rise even higher and real estate becomes ever scarcer with more people flocking here to take advantage of the tech-fueled economic boom, a new kind of street person is emerging: older, gay, and living with HIV or AIDS.

Although LGBT people comprise about 15 percent of San Francisco’s population, according to a 2011 study, this year’s San Francisco homeless count revealed that 30 percent of people on the streets or in shelters identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The City’s abundance of social services and famous tolerance for gay lifestyles are no help in overcoming homophobia and discrimination when looking for a job — and no help in an eviction proceeding, experts say.

“Our community has seen the greatest concentration of evictions of any group in the city,” said Brian Basinger, founder and executive director of the AIDS Housing Alliance — who was himself evicted from his Pearl Street home in 1997.

Horror stories like that of Tim Oviatt, who at 64 became homeless after 26 years of running a successful Castro boutique when he lost his apartment, are becoming more common. Among LGBT homeless in San Francisco, “what’s unusual is the high number of adults and seniors,” which is triple the rate of other cities, said Bevan Dufty, the former Castro supervisor who now is Mayor Ed Lee’s point person on homelessness.

And older LGBT people can become homeless without an eviction. Basinger said he sees many people losing their housing within a year of being diagnosed as HIV-positive due to the “trauma.” Once out on the street, he added, they experience homophobia-fueled discrimination from housing and service providers — even in The City.

Thus, when designing an offshoot of the successful Project Homeless Connect — regular gatherings at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium where homeless people can obtain acutely needed goods or services such as IDs, dental or vision care, or bus tickets home — city officials took note.

Today, when at least 600 people are expected at the LGBT Center on Market Street for the first Project LGBTQ Connect, jobs and housing — rather than addiction treatment or acute health care — are expected to be the most sought-after services.

Exactly what services are requested will be dutifully logged in surveys, and that data will be applied to future outreach programs.

To fight the housing fight might require conquering the free market, under which some people are gradually priced out of desirable neighborhoods over time. But for LGBT people, moving “back home” often isn’t an option, Basinger noted. Since The City is one of the few places where they’re safe from homophobia and able to access vital HIV-AIDS medication, relocating out of economic need is not an option.

Although the recent successes in LGBT rights — marriage equality and the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell — might lull some into a false sense of security, Basinger said marriage is a luxury for people living on the fringes of society because they’re gay. For it to truly “get better,” as the ads aimed at bullied LGBT youth promise, will require a change in the way The City does business, he added.

“Real estate speculation and a lack of affordable housing,” he said. “That’s the story of LGBT homelessness in San Francisco.”

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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