Report Suggests Supportive Housing Programs Should Better Address Needs of Clientele with Intersectional Identities

A paper published in Housing Policy Debate, “Supportive Housing for Sexual and Gender Minority Individuals with Criminal Justice Histories: Challenges and Opportunities Identified by Providers and Clients,” examines the needs of sexual and gender minority (SGM) clients with criminal justice system histories as they attempt to access supportive housing interventions. The researchers conducted interviews with providers and clients to document perspectives on the accessibility of supportive housing services for SGM people with criminal justice histories and explore opportunities for improvement. Their findings highlight the need for investment in systems of care that would give SGM populations access to comprehensive services in an affirming environment.

The researchers conducted their study in Los Angeles County, California, which is home to the largest unsheltered population (66,000 people) and the largest jail system (averaging 17,000 daily detentions) in the U.S. They interviewed 11 providers and 10 clients from Los Angeles County supportive housing programs. The clients interviewed represented a diverse range of gender identities and sexual orientations but did not include any lesbian women, trans men, or nonbinary, asexual, or intersex individuals.

One major theme emphasized by both staff and clientele was the importance of supportive housing interventions that are comprehensive in addressing all aspects of a client’s identity. Such an approach looks at a client’s medical needs, behavioral health, income, and employment needs with housing as the focus. Interviewees noted the importance of having access to medical and behavioral health services that can address issues specific to SGM clients, such as HIV, Trans-affirming hormones and surgery, and identity development. However, clients also noted that while access to these options is important, clients themselves might prioritize goals differently, focusing on aims like finding stable housing and employment.

The interviewees also emphasized the importance of having access to diverse and culturally competent program staff able to relate to clients’ backgrounds. Such staff would include those with lived experience, such as SGM individuals who have experienced homelessness or been involved in the criminal justice system. Several clients reported experiencing discrimination within their supportive housing programs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and suggested that hiring culturally competent staff could help mitigate this discrimination. A supportive housing program’s interpersonal climate more generally was seen as critically important by SGM clients. Creating a supportive interpersonal climate involves ensuring that organizational leadership plays an active role in building affirmative spaces, instituting program policies that are not punitive or discriminatory in nature, and having a strong team communication system to better support clients.

Finally, interviewees highlighted the structural barriers that clients face due to having multiple vulnerable identities. Many SGM people, formerly incarcerated people, and people experiencing homelessness experience social stigma and discrimination, which can make the supportive housing process more difficult. Trans people may have trouble accessing specific services because their names and genders do not match those listed in their documentation. People with criminal justice histories may experience difficulties finding housing or jobs. While these structural problems require structural solutions, interviewers found that supportive housing organizations can help clients overcome these barriers by forming relationships with specific landlords, employers, and service agencies that are SGM-affirming.

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