Where Pride meets purpose: how HOPE Atlanta aims to build a community where every person feels at home
It’s Pride Month, but we’re caring for our LGBTQ+ neighbors every day.
Like far too many transgender women, Tenay found herself facing an impossible choice. To flee her home, where she was being abused, meant facing homelessness. But, ultimately, she chose to leave. It was then that she contacted HOPE Atlanta.
“A lot of trans women don’t like to get help until their back is against the wall,” Tenay said. “They don’t want to be ostracized, don’t want people staring at them.”
People in the LGBTQ+ community face unique challenges that put them at greater risk of homelessness and make life on the streets even more difficult. According to a 2020 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, sexual minority adults in the U.S. are twice as likely to experience homelessness than the general population. A staggering 8% of transgender adults said they had experienced homelessness that year.
If you asked almost any homelessness service provider, they’d paint a similar picture. HOPE Atlanta’s Director of Special Needs Housing, David-Lee Mattison, said that all of the agency’s programs — from homeless outreach to veterans services — have clients in the LGBTQ+ community. “It’s just part of our services,” he said. “I don’t feel like we need to single it out, but make it a part of who we are as an agency.”
That means not only taking the time to understand the challenges that each person faces, but implementing agency-wide policies to promote inclusivity.
“We have to respect people for who they are, as an agency. A couple of years ago, we stepped up to the plate and said, ‘We are inclusive.’ We wanted people to feel comfortable in their own skin,” David-Lee explained. “Even on our intake forms, we are inclusive of every demographic.”
Although Tenay had initially hesitated to seek help for fear of being ostracized, she found nothing but empathy and acceptance at HOPE Atlanta from the first time she stepped into her case worker’s office.
“I was guarded when I first came in,” Tenay said. “When I got into Ms. Gordon’s office, she wasn’t judgemental. She had soft music playing. We talked for 2 hours. She asked, ‘What is it you need from me?’ So I told her. A lot of people don’t listen to what I need.”
Helping Tenay back on her feet meant addressing all of her unique needs, like mental health support, assistance with nutrition and grocery shopping, and paying bills. HOPE Atlanta takes the same holistic approach with every client we serve.
“We help clients to identify as their own gender,” said David-Lee, citing another person he was currently assisting. “We have one client, when she first came to HOPE she was Christopher, but when she came in last week, she came in with her official name change identifying as a female. So now we are going back to change all of her information so she can go by her new identity. Those are the things we do as an agency to show we are inclusive.”
And, if Tenay’s success is any indication, a little inclusivity and kindness go a long way. Today, she is stably housed, enjoying “the simple life,” and even finding ways to reach out and help others in similar circumstances.
“Someone gave me a chance. If HOPE Atlanta wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have gotten services,” she said. “They’ve given me the tools I need to go out and help the next person.”
At HOPE Atlanta, private funding helps us assist more at-risk people, including our LGBTQ+ neighbors, with individualized services and support so they can live authentic, self-sufficient lives. A one-time or recurring donation is a meaningful and effective way to show your support, too.