Shared Housing Project aims to address transgender homelessness in Dallas

Jodielynn Wiley

Jodielynn Wiley

Living in Paris, Texas, as a transgender woman, Jodielynn Wiley received threats and found dead animals in her yard — but she said the police refused to help.

A month ago, Wiley decided to leave.

“I got up in the middle of the night and took off,” Wiley told Lone Star Q. “I just needed to get out of there. I didn’t want to wake up with my throat cut.”

Wiley came to Dallas, where she’s been staying at the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter. But her time at the shelter is almost up, and she’s been unable to find more permanent housing.

After Wiley shared her story with Nell Gaither, president of Trans Pride Initiative, Gaither decided to launch a Shared Housing Project to match folks who have housing with those seeking housing who are transgender or gender nonconforming.

“This idea grew out of spending too many frustrating attempts to locate or navigate existing options only to end up going nowhere,” Gaither said. “Providers don’t call back, program funding lost or cut, your client just doesn’t quite meet the qualifications. This is a stop-gap attempt to do a little to alleviate the problem, but I thought it worth trying.”

Through the Shared Housing Project, Gaither aims to combat what has long been a major issue for the trans community: homelessness and housing discrimination. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people have experienced homelessness at some time in their lives because of discrimination and family rejection; nearly one in three have been turned away from a shelter due to their transgender status; and 42 percent have been forced to stay in a shelter living as the wrong gender.

Gaither said homeless shelters in Dallas — some of which once refused to house clients according to their gender identity — have become more accommodating in recent years. However, Gaither said the challenge is finding long-term, transitional housing. While shelters like the Salvation Army limit stays to 30 days, the waiting list for transitional housing can be 9-18 months.

“I don’t totally blame the shelter/provider — I think they are trying, we just have more need than service availability,” Gaither said. “Persons have to be diligent as self-advocates to make it from the shelters to stable housing. Persons who may be dealing with some level (and may not even realize it) of self-stigma have a more difficult time advocating for their rights, and if they don’t fit the binormative/cisnormative mold and stereotypical expectations, that can make going through overworked staff to access limited services even more difficult.”

The Shared Housing Project is believed to be the first of its kind in the state — and one of only a few in the nation. Gaither said it’s “sort of an experiment” and she’s unsure whether she’ll get enough response, but she’s open to adjusting it to make it work. For now, those seeking housing or wanting to provide housing can fill out a Homeseeker Application or a Provider Application on the group’s website. The program is also open to those seeking roommates or housemates so they can better afford housing.

For Wiley, the Shared Housing Project could be the difference between finding long-term housing and being on the street. She said the Salvation Army has already extended her stay beyond the 30-day limit.

“I have no idea where I’m going,” Wiley said this week. “They could tell me tomorrow it’s time for me to exit, and there’s not much I can do about it.”

Wiley, who met Gaither at Resource Center, said she’d love to find a transgender roommate.

“That would be perfect,” she said, “because we kind of know how each other click.”