An ‘endless cycle’: LGBTQ+ people more likely to become houseless

Illustration of Vincent Ray Williams III over a colorful swirling background of people walking
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff
According to a 2020 study, LGBTQ+ people are more than twice as likely to have experienced houselessness in their life than cisgender, straight people.

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While growing up in foster care and group homes, Oakland resident Vincent Ray Williams III, born HIV-positive and pansexual, alleged he was stigmatized, outcasted and physically abused when people “caught wind” of his sexual identity.

When he was nine years old, Williams became unhoused. He recalled that he would soon find himself using drugs, becoming stuck in an “endless cycle” of seeking help but never finding any real assistance.

“I started using because I wanted to escape,” Williams said. “But I was always begging for help and always willing to try to accept whatever a person may be offering.”

Williams said he tried to commit suicide three different times and nearly succeeded — all three times, he flatlined but was revived — because he “didn’t want to live” since he did not feel loved or accepted. He was houseless for 26 years, resorting to sleeping on sidewalks, bus stop benches, buses and BART trains.

Williams emphasized that he ran through every single resource but called them “insufficient.”

It was not until 2020 that Williams came upon the Oakland LGBTQ Center and claimed that he would come to learn about who he is and would no longer be “scared” about what the world would think of him. Williams, who now works at the Oakland LGBTQ center, said many of his clients still share the same difficulty of finding local resources.

“It’s important that people know that although resources are limited, there are people that are on standby just waiting to assist,” Williams said.

Williams added that everybody working in the LGBTQ+ space in houselessness is overwhelmed by requests for assistance. According to him, organizations and city officials need to have a healthy conversation concerning LGBTQ+ houseless individuals, emphasizing the necessity for people to “actively listen” to them.

Ian Cordova Morales, president of houseless advocacy group Where Do We Go Berkeley, added that local, state and federal governments, as well as shelters and hospitals engage with unhoused people differently from those that are housed.

Morales alleged that social services employees refuse to refer to people by their chosen names. He added that some individuals have experienced sexual assault, believing it was because they identified as LGBTQ+.

Brandon Polk, a gay man who previously lived at houseless shelter Rodeway Inn, passed away at a bus stop several months ago, according to Morales. Morales alleged that Polk died of a drug overdose after being denied entry to the shelter due to missing curfew.

Morales called Polk a “genuinely good person and really funny.”

“Drug use is often a symptom and a natural human reaction to trauma,” Morales said.

Furthermore, Chloe Verron, a transgender woman, passed away in her vehicle a few months ago after allegedly being forced to move due to a sweep by the city, according to Morales. He added that she was a “very kind person.”

Morales emphasized that “we need to be fighting” for houseless youth who have been kicked out by their families and are houseless.

Em Huang, director of LGBTQ+ Advancement & Equity at the UC Berkeley Gender Equity Resource Center, or GenEq, said it is “absolutely true” that queer and transgender people tend to experience higher rates of houselessness.

Referencing a 2020 study by the Williams Institute, Huang noted that LGBTQ+ people are more than twice as likely to have experienced houselessness in their lifetime, at 17%, in comparison to cisgender straight people, at 6%.

Huang added that at GenEq, many students who reach out are facing houselessness, adding that the most common cause is when students who come out about their identities lose financial support from their families.

“There aren’t enough resources for homeless youth in general, so definitely not for (LGBTQ+) youth,” said Aman Fitzgerald, manager of Our Space, an LGBTQ+ community center.

According to Fitzgerald, LGBTQ+ youth can “feel unsafe” in foster care, resorting to houselessness due to a lack of other options.

Fitzgerald noted that while East Bay shelters are working to create more LGBTQ+ exclusive housing or inclusive shelters in general, resources are still highly limited.

“People need humanity,” Williams said. “People need to be treated like how you would treat anyone else.”

Contact Victor Corona at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @victorcoronas.