Published December 3rd, 2021 at 6:00 AM
A few weeks ago, Xander Stephens was out of a job, out of housing and out of options.
Despite being a self-described “strong independent they/them,” discrimination against Stephens’ trans identity and physical disability have made finding stable housing a struggle.
It often is a life-defining moment.
“When you’re talking about homeless gay, lesbian or trans youth, if we can’t get in touch with one of these kids within 48 hours of them hitting the streets, the chances of them falling victim to a crime, whether it be trafficking, rape, assault or them falling into homelessness permanently increases by 80%,” said Blaine Proctor, CEO of SAVE Inc.
SAVE Inc. started as a hospice facility for those with HIV/AIDS. Now, it has transformed into a place that provides permanent, transitional and emergency housing services. SAVE also operates Pride Haven, the overnight youth shelter where Stephens is currently staying.
Pride Haven addresses a gap in Kansas City’s shelter system, offering a safe place specifically geared towards LGBTQ youth.
Pride Haven, located at 3109 Campbell St., provides housing and case management in a home environment. Youth aged 18-24 can stay for 30 days while being provided resources such as housing/job assistance, health care referrals, laundry, showers and common areas such as a kitchen and family room where the community can connect.
Things had started to crumble when Stephens was fired from a job in college.
“I remember them saying it was for other reasons, but the only thing that there ever seemed to be an issue about was where I went to the bathroom,” Stephens said.
Stephens had been saving for a while, but the money quickly ran out and the onset of a physical disability made it impossible to work or drive. The only option left was to move back home to a family that was less-than-accepting of their gender identity.
Stephens transitioned the “right way.” Stephens waited until adulthood, went through years of therapy and took the proper hormones.
“Transitioning was not something (my family) supported or agreed with,” Stephens said. “I didn’t necessarily want to go back cause I could tell that the environment wasn’t healthy for me, but I didn’t know where else to go.”
That living situation didn’t last for long. One day while Stephens was out of the house receiving mental health treatment, their family moved their things into a storage facility. No longer welcome, Stephens once again had to scramble to find another place to stay.
Finding affordable housing in Kansas City is already a challenge, but Stephens faced unique barriers. For one, in Missouri there are no protections against housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. This leaves people who identify as LGBTQ in a vulnerable position.
Not only that, but they have to jump through hoops to clarify their name and gender on official documents, and then convey that to a landlord who might not want the trouble.
“That’s not me trying to be more of a nuisance,” Stephens said. “That’s just me trying to ask for the respect of who I am. It’s made it difficult in the past to feel comfortable in the housing situation I am in.”
If Stephens is able to find housing that is affordable and wheelchair accessible, there’s also the question of if that location is safe for LGBTQ individuals. Stephens can recall several friends in the area who have been harassed outside of their home due to discrimination against their gender or sexual orientation.
This worry exists not just in renting an apartment, but also in Kansas City’s shelter system.
Despite being in dire straits, Stephens hesitated to call any local faith-based shelters for fear of discrimination.
That, and the “person first” housing model can be deterrents to checking into a shelter like City Union Mission.
“Person first” refers to a housing model that requires unhoused people to address issues such as substance abuse before qualifying for housing.
According to the CEO of City Union Mission, Dr. Terry Megli, there are qualifications to receiving housing assistance, but one of those is not changing one’s sexuality or gender identity.
City Union Mission has come under fire in recent years for refusing to allow a same-sex married couple to stay together in their shelter.
“We don’t judge, but we do loop them back into what God’s word says about that lifestyle. We want to let them know that it’s dangerous,” Megli said.
SAVE Inc., however, uses a housing first model that addresses stable housing as a prerequisite to solving other issues.
Stephens is currently two weeks into a 30-day stay at Pride Haven.
“I really enjoy knowing that Pride Haven is LGBTQ-centered because my identity isn’t questioned,” Stephens said. “I don’t have to worry about being harassed because of who I am.”
Catherine Hoffman covers community affairs and culture for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.