Ameen also testified that there are no emergency shelter beds dedicated to LGBT individuals, and that while some facilities adequately train staff to provide culturally competent care, many fall short. Those providing competent care are often at capacity, thereby forcing younger LGBT people to be referred to shelters where they may be subjected to emotional, verbal or physical abuse by fellow residents or staff.
Brian Watson, director of programs at Transgender Health Empowerment and a member of the ICH, echoed Ameen’s testimony, saying that he and local transgender activist Earline Budd – in the course of providing sensitivity training – saw that many shelter employees held personal prejudices against LGBT people.
Watson pointed out that the District has only eight beds specifically set aside for LGBTQ youth. Those beds are at the Wanda Alston House, a project of Transgender Health Empowerment. The residence, Watson clarified, is not an emergency shelter, is often at capacity, and houses clients a maximum of 18 months.
Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), who also testified at the hearing, later told Metro Weekly that another concern with the bill is its method of tracking sexual orientation, which he worries may place youth at risk if that information is divulged. He also worries about who may by accountable for overseeing implementation; a lack of preventative services; and a need to expand the overall number of beds available, rather than setting aside existing beds. Representatives from the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) expressed similar concerns regarding the bill’s provisions when they testified before the committee Nov. 19.
Overall, Barnett is optimistic about the bill, saying, ”I think it’s a good bill, and it’s addressing an important issue. But with some changes, it could be a much better bill.”
Meanwhile, The DC Center has collected hundreds of signatures on a petition it will submit to the Council calling for at least 20 additional beds to be set aside for LGBTQ youth, without limiting resources for other homeless residents.
Still in committee, the bill may be amended at a future mark-up session and voted upon by the Committee on Human Services before being sent to the full Council for a preliminary vote.