I want to thank the committee for asking me to participate in this important conversation regarding the state of shelter services for women and children.
I was confused by my invitation to address all of you here today. Yes, I am a woman who has worked in the women's homelessness sector, and yes, I am a woman with lived experience. However, the only narrative I can provide for you today is from the marginalized perspective of the most underserved community in Canada. I am the founder and executive director of Canada's only transgender and family support centre, based in Windsor-Essex.
Our agency is completely unfunded by any level of government, and operates solely by donation and contract services to other organizations. I'm also a transgender woman who has experienced homelessness, and I have first-hand knowledge of the barriers faced by my community when attempting to access services.
This year, for the first time, the Windsor community added gender identity, with transgender being one of the options, to the list of questions asked during the Point in Time Count. Even though our community chose to gather this information, no level of government requests this information outside of the binary choice of male or female for any sort of data collection. The administrators of the count were surprised to see that 3% of the community identified as being part of the trans community.
To the larger community, 3% may not sound like an alarming number, but we know trans-identified people are still afraid to self-identify for fear of not being able to access gendered services and of what they may experience when accessing those services.
Having worked in a women's shelter, I know these shelters are always at capacity, and in Windsor we actually have just 12 beds for single women. This has required shelter operators to be creative and use crash mats to accommodate additional women above what they are funded for.
For trans women who are accessing emergency shelter that is already at capacity, asking for any kind of accommodation to feel safe in and accessing that vital service is impossible. Our community is also one of the only ones I've ever heard of that does not have a family shelter program and does not use a motel program, which most communities use as an overflow program.
We know that there is no research currently that can give accurate statistics on homelessness and domestic violence in trans communities. There are very many systemic reasons for this. Even if shelters are asking about gender identity in an inclusive way at the service level, we know our government is not requiring shelters to actually keep statistics on trans people accessing services.
The most accurate portrayal of the needs is found in the Trans Pulse Project done in southwest Ontario. Even when studies are completed, they lump trans identities in with lesbian, gay and bisexual groups, which do not face the same barriers to access as we do. If we continue to research and keep statistics only on the LGBT community as a whole, we will never have an accurate portrayal of the barriers faced by the most marginalized of our community.
Trans women are still being turned away from women's services every day, although it is illegal to do so. We are still being told that our presence in women's services is triggering for cisgender women who have faced violence at the hands of men. Trans men who have faced violence are being sent to men's homeless shelters, and many report experiencing sexual violence while staying in these shelters. Many of these instances go unreported to authorities and to shelter staff because they are aware that this is their only option for a place to stay.
We hear them, though. We see them come into our centre, hopeless and without options. They are not just stories to us. These are our friends, people we share common experience with, people who matter.
Non-binary people are bring forced to choose either male or female when accessing any services, as our communities will still only serve people within the binary concept. Not only is this a disservice to our community, but it also does not give an accurate portrayal of the needs of marginalized people who require access to these services. Because our government does not ask about gender identity, we will never have a real understanding of the needs of our community. This means that our government will continue to fund women's beds and men's beds, instead of safe beds. After coming out, many of us lose our support systems, our families, our jobs and our homes. The trans community has a 43% suicidality rate.
In a country with laws that are so progressive in observing the rights of trans identities, why are our systems still set up to only serve cisgender people? Because our systems are not set up in a way that is inclusive of trans identities, 92% of trans-identified people are too afraid to access public spaces.
Seventy-seven per cent of the people in our community experience homelessness at some point throughout their transition, but they stay in dangerous living situations for longer periods of time to avoid accessing services, and 40% of our community members do not access emergency health care or residential addiction services when needed.
Our organization has been in operation for a year. We got the keys to our drop-in centre on May 1, 2018. Of course, there are no concrete statistics that supported the opening of a transgender-specific centre, which also means that we were unable to secure funding for operations or services.
What I believe is that if you build it, they will come. Since our opening, we've had 1,500 visits to the centre for various reasons, such as our food bank, clothing bank and counselling services, but most of all for advocacy support in gaining access and accommodations for services in the greater community that feel safe.
I am disappointed that in 2018, I still have clients calling me to report being pulled out of bathrooms at shelters for using the wrong bathroom, being forced to share accommodations that match their ID, or feeling unsafe in accessing the shelter system. They would rather sleep in the doorway of my centre until we open and catch some sleep there.
I'm appalled by the need for me to call shelters and advocate for why it is appropriate for our client to access that particular shelter and what their duty under the law is to accommodate that person. How comfortable would any of you be in having me call for you to access a shelter, where you know that I first had to argue for your right to be there? How would you be able to trust the staff, administration, or even the environment, knowing that you would not even be allowed to be there unless someone advocated for you first?
Even recently, I had a client report that their accommodation under the code, which we advocated for, was removed. They were returned to a bed that does not match their lived gender after breaking a minor rule.
Accommodations are not rewards; they're required under our law for safe access.
Some of these very things that I bring to you today are part of my own story and the stories of many of those in my life. Many other marginalized populations have been a target for additional funds and resources to change their outcomes and lower staggering statistics; the trans community is tired of being erased in service delivery.
Our people are dying, and it's time for this to stop.