The "All At Once" mural, a collaboration between Morris Home and Philadelphia Mural Arts, displays seven Black trans women. Photo: Philadelphia Gay News

Morris Home is the only residential recovery home in the U.S. that provides services specifically for trans and nonbinary people experiencing addiction. But the program’s services go much deeper than recovery.

“A lot of statistics show that a lot of trans folks don’t necessarily go traditionally through the homeless system by accessing shelters or some of the community outreach resources,” said Morris Home Director Shana Williams, MHS. 

“We are considered a 3.5 residential level of care, so we provide a lot of aftercare or alumni services for our members – just navigating the housing system. We are able to help connect folks who would be traditionally homeless and remain homeless, had there not been their experience coming through Morris Home to be connected to some of those services.”

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans and other LGBTQ+ youth make up 20-40% of over 1.6 million youth experiencing homelessness in the U.S. The organization also reports that “social service and homeless shelters that work with this population often fail to culturally and appropriately serve transgender homeless people, including denying them shelter based on their gender identity, inappropriately housing them in a gendered space they do not identify with, and failing to address co-occurring issues facing transgender homeless adults and youth.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality also reports that one in five trans people in the U.S. has experienced discrimination when searching for housing, and over one in 10 have been evicted because of their gender identity. Such discrimination also spills over into services like physical and mental health care providers.

To help remedy such discrimination, the Morris Home team cultivates resources with medical providers, psychiatric providers, case management systems and peer specialists that they can connect with their residents.

“We really are at the forefront of making sure folks are trans competent,” Williams added. “We really advocate for and with our folks through their process.” One example is that case managers “go above and beyond” to vet landlords and ensure they are accepting and supportive of trans and nonbinary people, including people of color, who are going through the process of getting an apartment for the first time.

Morris Home was named for Nizah Morris, a Black trans woman who was killed in 2002 under suspicious circumstances. Photo: Philadelphia Gay News

Dainan James, a former Morris Home resident, had doubts about sticking with the organization’s recovery program.

“It was a lot of motivational talks,” James said. “I had thoughts of leaving; people were telling me that I should stay, I should stick to the program, get my apartment, try to better myself.”

Prior to seeking out help from Morris Home, James said that he tried to access homeless services but felt uncomfortable “because I didn’t have top surgery in a men’s shelter. So ultimately I couch surfed.”

But James, who ultimately decided to continue with the program, realized that seeing it through was worth it in more ways than one. He is now living in an apartment thanks to assistance from Morris Home.

“I felt great but nervous moving in,” James said. “I knew it would be freeing and it is. The landlord made me feel very welcome.”

Morris Home is one of several long-term residential treatment programs that are part of the initiative Journey of Hope (JOH), a program of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. JOH focuses on individuals who experience “prolonged homelessness, substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health challenges,” per the department’s website. As such, Morris Home leadership helps potential and current residents find affordable, trans-friendly housing.

“Morris Home has been able to support by bridging that gap with making sure folks do homeless assessments and get access to some of the resources, or at least an entryway into some of the systems that support housing,” Williams said.

Despite the fact that there are culturally competent housing resources for queer and trans people of color in Philadelphia, more targeted housing solutions and shelters are needed.

Shyquan Bowie, a local chef who works for Aramark and runs his own business, is working toward creating a shelter for trans men in a city where few such housing resources exist.

“Going through my journey and having to experience homelessness and being attacked, I realized that we didn’t have any help,” Bowie said in a 2023 interview with Philadelphia Gay News. “We feel unsafe in these shelters where we’re supposed to be safe. These places where they say we ought to be able to come to and we can’t go there because we are told we’re a liability or we’re being threatened while we’re in there.”

He pointed out that Philly has housing resources and shelters for trans women, gay women, gay men and nonbinary people, but nothing specific for trans men.

“As much as people think that it’s OK to put trans guys, trans women, gay men, lesbians all in one building, it’s not,” Bowie added. 

“That’s four different walks of life. It’s not always comfortable for the trans guys, it’s not always comfortable for the trans women, it’s not always comfortable for the lesbians.”

Morris Home in Philadelphia, PA serves trans and nonbinary people experiencing addiction. Photo: Laura Sorensen

Other housing resources for LGBTQ+ and specifically trans people experiencing homelessness exist in Philadelphia. Ark of Safety LGBTQ+ Safe Haven, one of the newest local trans-centric housing initiatives, prioritizes Black and Brown trans women. It provides a weekly evening drop-in for folks to get a hot meal or a shower, emergency shelter services and a rapid rehousing program for trans people of color, which offers six months of temporary housing while the individual transitions to a permanent residence.

SELF Inc.’s Way Home program is a collaboration with William Way that helps LGBTQ community members obtain permanent housing by providing up to one year of rental assistance to people experiencing homelessness while they further their education and employment skills. The Way Home team gets referrals through the Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services.

The regional housing organization Valley Youth House provides housing solutions for LGBTQ+ youth through its Pride program. Included in that is the Pride Respite program, which secures transitional housing for LGBTQ+ youth for three months. The Valley Youth House team has also been working on bolstering the Host Homes program, which was designed to have host families provide one to six months of transitional housing to LGBTQ+ youth.

Williams said that among the ways to improve local housing solutions for QTBIPOC people is for organizations to continue to identify and develop resources.

“We get calls from folks all over the state of Pennsylvania as well as the country looking for very intentional care and support. In a world where we hope that everyone would have one-on-one basic and fundamental support for all humankind, I do think it’s important to continue to create safe spaces for QTBIPOC folks, trans and nonbinary folks in general. [We need to] create those safe spaces for them to access to get the true support they need, to not just be given an application, to really have true support, step by step.”

Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for the Philadelphia Gay News.

This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.

Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events.