Think Out Loud

Report finds queer Portlanders in need of more housing services

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Feb. 22, 2024 4:59 p.m. Updated: Feb. 22, 2024 9:25 p.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Feb. 22

A new report from a coalition of service providers for queer communities in the Portland area found that the region lacks support and resources for LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness. The report comes from the LGBTQAI2S+ Housing Collaborative, which is composed of several groups including Basic Rights Oregon, Pride Northwest, the Equi Institute, PDX Trans Housing Coalition, the Q Center, Black & Beyond the Binary Collective and others.


The coalition notes there is a lack of emergency shelters for this group, despite being more likely to have experienced homelessness. Jonathan Frochtwajg is the public policy and grant manager for Cascades Aids Project and authored the report. Seraph Kane and Thomasina Fizdale work with Portland’s Queer Affinity Village, an outdoor shelter that creates an affirming space for LGBTQ+ Portlanders experiencing homelessness. They join us as well to share more about the demand for services.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. A new report from a coalition of service providers for queer communities in the Portland area found that the region lacks supports and resources for LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness. The report noted a lack of emergency shelters for this group despite their being more likely to experience homelessness. In a few minutes, we’re going to talk to two people who work at the Queer Affinity Village in Southwest Portland. But we start with the author of this new report. Jonathan Frochtwajg is a public policy and grants manager for Cascades Aids Project. Welcome to the show.

Jonathan Frochtwajg: Thanks for having me.

Miller: You wrote in your recent report that data on homelessness among the region’s queer population is incomplete and inadequate. What do you mean?

Frochtwajg: We have a couple of ways of knowing how many people are experiencing homelessness in our community and who is experiencing homelessness. The main way is the point in time count when folks literally go out and count on a given night how many people are unsheltered. And the point in time count does collect data on gender identity but not on sexual orientation. So that’s a major gap in what we know about people experiencing houselessness. And then the homeless management information system, or HMIS, is the system houseless service providers in Multnomah County use and that also only collects data on gender identity. So we really don’t know people’s sexual orientation who are houseless.

Miller: Well, what does the data that we do have access to tell us?

Frochtwajg: Because of the gaps in local data, we have to look to national data to get an idea of what’s going on and that data tells us that trans and queer people are significantly more likely than straight folks to experience houselessness. The Williams Institute at UCLA looked at this in 2020 and found that almost 17% of what they call sexual minority adults had experienced houselessness at some point in their life, and that’s more than twice the rate among the general population. The Williams Institute has also found that more than 8% of trans people had experienced houselessness in just a year before being interviewed. And to compare, 2.5% of cis-sexual minorities and 1.4% of cis-straight people have experienced houselessness in the year before being interviewed. So we’re definitely seeing disparities among trans and queer folks when it comes to housing status.

Miller: Those numbers [are] maybe more than three times higher than other populations for trans people. What are some of the reasons for this, for these much higher percentages of homelessness among gay or lesbian people or transgender people?

Frochtwajg: I think there are some simple answers, like we know that houselessness rates are much, much higher among trans and queer youth because of lack of family acceptance, literally, people being not accepted by their families of origin or their communities and and literally running away from home and not having anywhere to live. But I think there are also more complex structural reasons and those are the same reasons that we see houselessness disparities among People of Color, which is that minority stress. Our society is not designed for trans and queer people just as it’s not designed for People of Color. And specifically, our social service system is not designed for LGBTQ folks. So they’re going to have a harder time accessing housing and other social supports that they might need to be successful, have stable housing.

Miller: Everything you’re talking about is largely based on national data. But the focus of your recent study is to say, OK, this is what we know about queer homelessness. How is it working out in terms of services in the Portland area? Broadly, what did you find?

Frochtwajg: Well, I want to acknowledge that there are many LGBTQ culturally-specific service providers who worked on this report and who are offering wonderful services for the community. So there are kind of points along the housing services continuum where there are robust services available. But along that housing services continuum, there are really significant gaps when it comes to services provided by and for queer people.

One of the most notable gaps, you already mentioned, is an emergency shelter. So there are no LGBTQ culturally-specific emergency shelters in the Portland region. And there are many local emergency shelters that are gender binary. So they only accept men or women, which means if you’re nonbinary, you’re out of luck. If you are a transman, a transwoman, there are real risks to you going to a gendered environment like that. There’s the risk of discrimination, but there’s also the risk of not feeling or literally not being safe with other clients at the facility. So that was one of the biggest issues that we saw in the local landscape.

Miller: How is Portland or Multnomah County doing compared to peer regions in terms of these issues?

Frochtwajg: I would say that given the size of the LGBTQ community in Portland, we do have the second highest rate of LGBTQ folks in the Portland area after San Francisco, in the entire country. So given that, the size of our community, we’re really not measuring up. Other communities have just focused more on trans and queer houselessness and invested more in services specifically for this population. So for example, Los Angeles recently funded a transitional shelter for transgender Latinas. And San Francisco, a little while ago, committed more than $7 million to an initiative to end trans houselessness by 2027. So I think we have a ways to go  before bringing the attention to our community that it deserves here.

Miller: What do you see as the most important policy recommendations that came from your report?

Frochtwajg: Well, I already mentioned about emergency shelters, but we make recommendations about other services along the continuum including longer term housing services. And I think to get those up and running, things like housing case management and permanent supportive housing, it’s going to take investment by funders, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and others in LGBTQ culturally-specific organizations, to kind of build up the infrastructure that our communities need.

I’ll also just call out that we recommend in the report that the City of Portland implement the LGBTQ strategic plan that the city’s Bureau of Equity and Human Rights recently put forward. It’s the first ever LGBTQ strategic plan, and implementing that plan would include staffing an LGBTQ policy office within the city that could kind of bring ongoing focus to community needs like this one. So I think that’s a concrete way that the city, at least, can move forward.

Miller: Jonathan, thanks very much.

Frochtwajg: Thank you.

Miller: Jonathan Frochtwajg is the public policy and grants manager for Cascades Aids Project and the author of a recent report looking into gaps in homeless services for LGBTQ+ people in the Portland area.

We turn now to one of the efforts intended to fill those gaps. The Queer Affinity Village is an outdoor shelter in Southwest Portland for LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness. Thomasina Fizdale is the program manager for the village. Seraph Kane is a team lead there. They both join me now. It’s great to have both of you on the show.

Thomasina Fizdale: It’s great to be here.

Miller: Thomasina, first. What was the original idea behind the Queer Affinity Village?

Fizdale: All Good Northwest took over the Queer Affinity (QA) Village in October of 2021. Previously, it was managed by C3PO which is a different organization. I believe that they were initially started as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then funding just kind of continued to come in and the shelter was established more permanently. The aim was to serve and currently is to serve the LGBTQ+ homeless population in Portland.


Miller: Seraph, do you mind sharing how you ended up at the village?

Seraph Kane: Yeah, of course. So I’m originally from California. When the egg had cracked, as it were, and I actually wanted to start my transition, I decided to leave home because home was not a great place, unfortunately, for me to do those things. And at the recommendation of somebody that I know, they told me about QA in Portland. So with the help of some other folks in the community, I was able to come down here via bus and do an intake and everything like that.

Miller: So you came directly from your home in California to the Queer Affinity Village, as a place that you’d heard would be a good starting point as you transitioned?

Kane: Yes. The main reason why is just because like where I live in California, I’m specifically from Stockton. Stockton unfortunately doesn’t have great homeless services to begin with, unfortunately, which is pretty much the same for a lot of cities in the state. So when I heard about QA, it wasn’t necessarily as a shelter. When I heard about it in my mind, it was, in a sense, kind of a sanctuary. So it’s a place where I could go and get services that I need, get mental health help that I need, get physical, medical treatment and stuff like that. And also to be amongst other people that were also like me where I didn’t feel like I had to hide, per se.

Miller: So you never then spent time at a homeless shelter that was not tailored to queer people or trans people. You didn’t have the experience that Jonathan was just talking about, for example?

Kane: No, no.

Miller: Can you describe the work that you do now? What does it mean to be a team lead?

Kane: I would say in like a more broader term, it is support of my staff who are case managers. In more detail, the job is not only supporting my team and doing like clerical work, time cards, all that kind of good stuff, but also connecting with participants who are on our site, making them feel like at home, in a way, and making sure that they know that they can come and talk to us whenever there is a need that needs to be met.

Miller: Thomasina, I understand that one of your roles is to essentially interview prospective residents, people who might be coming into the village. What are those conversations like?

Fizdale: All of our staff are involved in that interview process. I manage the waitlist, so I am taking in calls, adding people to the waitlist and kind of collecting some information that we then use with the information collected at the interview to make our decision. But yeah, we just try and get a general sense for what these people are experiencing and if we’re going to be able to help them and if they’re going to be a good fit.

Something that I think makes our village a really good place is the community that we’ve cultivated there. And we do take a lot of mindfulness into who we’re accepting into our community, to make sure that they’re really there to better themselves, to seek supportive services and engage in those services, and eventually move out into permanent housing.

Miller: So what are the things you’ve learned [that] are a good sign that someone is going to fit in well there and what are red flags for you at this point?

Fizdale: I would say some good green flags would be just someone who is engaged throughout the conversation and forthcoming. We’re not looking for any specific disqualifying factors such as substance use or mental illness. Those are all things that are pretty common in people who are out on the streets. But just a willingness to be open about those topics and a genuine interest in having supportive services rather than just having a place to store their things. So those are definitely some key things that we’re looking for. Someone who’s interested in case management, interested in potentially help with getting employment and moving out into housing. So as long as the person that we’re interviewing is forthcoming about those things and seems to be interested in engaging and following the rules of our shelter, where we have a zero tolerance policy for things like violence and hate speech. If they’re agreeable to those protocols, then they would be a good fit.

Miller: What do you see as the biggest gaps right now for unhoused queer people in the Portland area?

Fizdale: I think that a large gap that I see is a service specifically for older folks who are queer. There’s a lot of money and services that are currently available for younger queer people. There’s Smirk that’s run through the Homeless Youth Continuum,  and the Homeless Youth Continuum does a great job in Portland of providing services to young queer people. And unfortunately, that same kind of caliber of resource doesn’t necessarily exist for older folks…

Miller: When you say older, you mean like 60, 70, 80?

Fizdale: Yeah, like retirement age and older. We do have quite a few older folks at our shelter and something that I’ve noticed is it’s a lot harder to house them in terms of getting grants or vouchers that might help with that housing process. That’s definitely a huge gap in services.

Miller: Thomasina, there’s only one Queer Affinity Village. And I’m wondering if you think that there are lessons that other villages or shelters that are not culturally-specific, that are not aimed specifically at queer people, if you think there are lessons that they could take from you, that would make their offerings better in general?

Fizdale: I think a lot of the success of our program does come down to our team, our staff that are on site. We have a very close community of staff. And I’ve worked in various shelters in Portland and I can definitely say that the way our staff interact with our participants at our shelter is really special. And there’s a very strong sense of warmth and welcoming. I don’t know if that is necessarily like a hard fact that you can translate to like other services or shelters, but I do think it is partially responsible for our success as a program and our ability to house so many people and have pretty good success rates for our participants - having a really strong cohesive team. And I do think that that stems from a lot of our team being representative in terms of demographic, similar to our participants. So a lot of people who maybe came through that program or have experienced houselessness as a queer person before.

Miller: Seraph, in a sense, that’s you, right? I mean, you were a resident. Are you still a resident or have you moved somewhere else as you became an employee?

Kane: Yeah. So when I had initially started at All Good, it was right at the beginning of when they took stewardship of QA and two other sites. At that point, I did start looking for housing. I am housed, I have an apartment, which I’m very fortunate and thankful for, of course. And part of the reason that I was able to do that thing, besides having work, was also just like compassion and patience that a lot of the caseworkers, my caseworker, had for me and with me.

My knowledge of Portland is admittedly quite small and I didn’t really know what to look for, or where to look, or what was required for housing and things like that and documentation. So having people that were willing to sit there with me for like three hours and some change, to do research and help me collect all of those things so that I could actually be prepared was like the biggest thing. And not only for me, but I have a partner as well who’s a Villager and those were the biggest things for us, was not necessarily just being handed the access by itself, but getting the access and also tips on how to use it.

Miller: What do you think it would have taken for you to be able to feel supported,

and cared for in Stockton? I mean, the story you’re telling is on some level, I think the word you said, is refuge. You came here seeking sanctuary and it seems like it worked, which is wonderful. I’m wondering what you think it would have taken for you to not need that sanctuary here, to have found what you needed for a vibrant, safe life where you came from?

Kane: I can’t speak to the whole state of course, but to Stockton specifically when I was living there, I grew up homeless for the most part, in and out of different shelters in the Bay Area [and] in Stockton, a lot of places in between. And one of the things that really affected my mom and I when I was younger growing up, was that it was just difficult. There’s like a lot of barriers to getting needs that we needed met. And the case workers, from what I remember from forever ago, were not exactly the best at offering solutions or options on how to get over those barriers or through those barriers. And in that sense, I do think the biggest thing is not even necessarily having like a queer-specific village in California, but people that are working those sites that are able to both take care of themselves and maintain their own compassion, and share that with others.

Miller: Seraph Kane and Thomasina Fizdale, thanks very much.

Fizdale: Thanks for having us on.

Kane: Thank you.

Miller: Seraph Kane is now team lead at the Queer Affinity Village in Southwest Portland, not that far from our studios. Thomasina Fizdale is program manager there.

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