In terms of COVID-19 safety, the spokesperson told PGN that the city is running two community-based COVID Prevention Spaces for people 65 and up and those with chronic illnesses. Those spaces provide “safe, non-congregate rooms and services for those most vulnerable to COVID. And participants are prioritized for long-term housing.” Plus, the City implemented three “community-based Single Room Occupancy programs.”
During the protest, ACT UP organizers played anonymous audio clips of people who previously lived in the PATCO homeless encampment.
One individual said via the recording, “if somebody’s in a situation, or somebody [needs help], and they can’t really get the help, why evict them or try to put them in a worse position — in a position they can’t get themselves out of?”
Henderson shared a story from a friend who works for the Philadelphia shelter system to illustrate that many shelter staff are not trans-competent, and that the gendered entry process creates a roadblock for trans people who seek access to shelter. Henderson’s friend worked with a trans woman with a speech and hearing disability.
“[The trans woman] was often read as a masculine or gender-ambiguous person,” Henderson said, quoting their friend. “She was turned away from House of Passage several times, despite writing down that she was a woman and was homeless and in need of a place to stay.”
A 2020 Williams Institute study revealed that roughly 8 percent of transgender adults in the U.S. reported having experienced homelessness in the year before participating in the survey; 3 percent of cisgender and “genderqueer sexual minority adults,” as well as 1 percent of cishet adults reported having experienced homelessness recently. The study also showed that more Black and Latinx sexual minorities recently experienced homelessness than their white peers.
“You have to understand that identities are intersectional, so folks who are experiencing houselessness may also be [people] living with HIV,” Naiymah Sanchez, trans justice coordinator for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told PGN at the protest.
BBWC’s Muhammad spoke about homelessness as an HIV/AIDS issue.
“As someone who’s lived with the virus, as someone who’s HIV-positive, I’ve worked in AIDS nonprofits in the city and I saw the critical housing needs of folks who would come in to test,” they told the crowd. “We know that you can’t be on your meds properly — we want folks to be on their meds if they don’t have a place to lay their head. This is a health issue, it’s an issue about humanity too.”
In light of World AIDS Day in December, 2020, ACT UP Philadelphia sent recommendations to members of the Biden/Harris HUD review team, calling ample housing an HIV prevention tool. The organization’s statement includes a quote from Dr. David Holtgrave from the Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit IV, which reads in part: “Housing status is likely the most important characteristic of each [person living with HIV/AIDS] who seeks services — the most significant determinant of each PLWHA’s health and risk outcomes.”
The city spokesperson noted that “Philadelphia continues to have the lowest number of street homelessness of any major American city — as of 2020, we have reduced chronic street homelessness by 12%. And we’ve reduced family homelessness in Philadelphia by 25% since 2017.”
POPN’s Santana told fellow protesters that organizers have been fighting for adequate housing in Philadelphia for at least 40 years, “and this city always delivers the minimum change, if any change at all. In this city there’s about 6,000 homeless citizens and there’s only half the beds to accommodate [them]. The City of Philadelphia needs to know that it’s time for change; City Council needs to know that it’s time for change; Mayor Kenney needs to know that it’s time for change.”
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.