After a photo project got national and international attention last year, artist, trans woman, fund founder and now Trans Housing Coalition Co-director Jesse Pratt-López was still in shock when her crowdfunding project hit $2 million in June 2020. People’s generosity is less surprising these days, but she still shows deep gratitude for the sheer volume of donations, as well as the work the money makes possible.
“This whole experience has taught us the true power of mutual aid,” Lopez told Project Q. “The average donation has been $30. That tells you how much power people have when they come together. It also speaks to how the trans community has been creating our own resources for some time now, so when the rest of the world started to pay attention, it was truly inspiring.”
The money is already going to good use. At the end of March, López secured a property that houses chronically homeless Black trans women. Muffin’s Place is named after Muffin Bankz, a trans Atlanta woman shot to death in January.
“Muffin’s Place is a beautiful four bed-room duplex located in Hapeville,” López said. “Through Muffin’s Place, Trans Housing Coalition is able to offer transitional housing to individuals who are working on getting their identification and moving into their own housing through federal housing vouchers.”
The need won’t go away, and the pandemic made the crisis worse. López hopes to keep the fires burning to create long-term solutions.
“We just hope people continue the momentum, and when trans people aren’t the latest media trend, that they will still stand up for us and support us,” she said.
Keeping up momentum
The fund, which is still gaining donations, underwrites other projects helping Black trans women living on Atlanta’s streets. López detailed them – from purchasing more properties to hiring more case managers and other plans – as well as her own calling and the ongoing housing crisis for trans women of color in an interview with Project Q.
In addition to Muffin’s place, how else has the fund helped?
Trans Housing Coalition began as a grassroots, photography-based crowdfunding campaign to help a small community of homeless Black trans women that I personally knew. Because this project was started with their collaboration, after it went viral and we started the organization, we made sure that we compensated each woman involved in the campaign for taking a part in its creation – in addition to providing them with housing and case management while they go through our program.
Including the women who the project started with, we have helped house 40 trans folks, over 30 of them consistently throughout the pandemic.
THC began during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once funds came in, our immediate goal was to move the girls we had been helping into emergency housing to help lessen their risk of COVID exposure. This meant placing people into extended-stay hotels, which are significantly more expensive than apartments.
For the first several months of operation, hotels were our primary source of housing for our clients. Once we brought on a case manager in partnership with Intown Collaborative Ministries, we gained access to federally funded housing programs.
As 2020 came to a close, we were able to enroll approximately 20 individuals into a housing voucher program funded by CARES Act money and the City of Atlanta’s Continuum of Care. Many of them have since moved into their own apartments – which are paid for, for a full year.
[Project Q interviewed the THC case manager back in October.]
Who else were you able to assist?
Recognizing the need for immediate cash assistance, THC also disbursed approximately $108,000 in emergency grants to nearly 150 transgender and gender non-conforming Georgians in September and October of 2020. In all, we have provided assistance to roughly 200 trans and gender non-conforming folks since our inception.
In addition to our full-time case manager hired in partnership with Intown Collaborative Ministries, THC brought on one additional full-time case manager, a case manager assistant, two consultants, and our co-directors. Our staff is majority trans people of color, and all staff members are compensated a living wage for their part in sustaining THC.
Lastly, we wanted to recognize the work of other trans folks in Atlanta within our coalition who have been working to house our Black and brown transgender community, so we awarded trans Housing Atlanta Program a $25,000 grant towards their work.
Because we are working within a system that is often the reason that people like our girls are homeless in the first place, we quickly realized why it’s been so difficult to obtain housing for trans folks. To put it simply: there is not enough affordable, safe housing in the City of Atlanta. We are continuing to explore ways to use the funds we have been entrusted with to build sustainable housing solutions for the trans community in Georgia.
Is this work something you always knew you wanted to do?
The trans community has so much trauma, especially girls who have been on the streets for years and years. To be honest, this work is not as glamorous as it may seem, but I love my community and working with and for them.
While I’ve always been an advocate, it wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta, blossomed into my identity as a trans woman, and started seeing and experiencing the injustices that girls like us face, especially my Black trans sisters – that I felt called to do the work.
I couldn’t have guessed that me sharing a few crowdfunds on my Instagram – and using my platform as an artist as a conduit for change – would result in the birth of a whole organization.
I was simply following in the footsteps of all the Black and brown trans women that have been fighting for gay and trans rights far longer than I have. They created the culture in their backyards that sustained themselves and their communities by doing sex work, often the only way they could.
I do it all for them. Because of them, our generation has more opportunities now than ever.
Every time we help get another girl who has been on the streets for years into her first apartment, or get a girl who has been doing survival sex work all her life, her first job in the work she wants to do, I get a rush. It’s exciting helping people become the best version of themselves.
Where do you want to take THC in the future?
We hope to continue the collaborative nature of our founding and continue reaching out to as many service providers as possible to ensure we have a bird’s eye view of the resources available to our communities. We also plan to continue partnering with mission-aligned organizations, organizers and others to create a network of housing options for our community, as well as options for wraparound services such as therapy and mentoring for those who are in housing.
We are currently forging a partnership with a huge service provider to hire our third case manager, and we will be excited to announce this partnership once it’s finalized.
The lack of transitional housing also continues to be an issue. As such, we have been exploring the possibility of purchasing a multi-family property. We will share more about this project publicly when the time comes.
We continue to receive requests for assistance from trans people throughout the South with plans to move to Atlanta or who recently moved to Atlanta.
Unfortunately, we have been unable to respond to or provide assistance to everyone. We are currently planning an expansion of our staff, including bringing on the additional case manager, and growing our organizational leadership to better equip us to provide the services we know our community needs.
What is the one thing you find is the most misunderstood about the women you serve? What is their most common or urgent need?
What is often most misunderstood about the women we serve – and with people experiencing homelessness in general – is that they are people. Folks experiencing homelessness are often discarded and dehumanized. People forget that they have the same capacity for hopes, dreams and passions as everyone else.
Capitalism has taught us that people are only worth helping if they are “productive members of society,” but I thoroughly reject that. People have intrinsic value, and we owe it to them to see their fullness and to do our best to meet them where they are.
Another thing that is misunderstood about trans women is that most of us are stereotyped as sex workers. Historically, most trans women have had to do sex work to survive. Nowadays, we are finally starting to get more opportunities. Now, more trans women are able to choose what they want to do.
Whether they want to do sex work, or not, we just want the freedom and autonomy to choose. Sex work is work, and trans women should have the same opportunities to choose to be a sex worker, or doctor, lawyer, artist or anything else they want to do just like anyone else.
The most urgent need depends on the individual. For many, a safe and comfortable place to rest and rebuild is needed the most. For others, it could be assistance changing a gender marker or name or assistance taking care of a month of rent.
What makes THC unique is that we don’t make assumptions about the needs of our program participants. We work with them to identify what’s most pressing and important to them and help create a plan to attain their goal. Whether it’s therapy, cooking classes, professional mentorship, we are always looking for ways to help individuals step into themselves – and we welcome anyone in the community up for helping us to do so.
Anything else people should know?
We just want to express our deep gratitude for the outpouring of support that we have received in the past year. From people donating $5, to people selling jewelry, t-shirts and candles, this project was birthed with the collective help of so many.
We hope that folks continue this momentum, continue investing in trans folks, especially Black trans folks. In our case, if we are to purchase the sort of multi-unit housing we are seeking, we will definitely need more financial support in the near future.
We want folks to know that the fight is not over until trans people have the same access to stability as everyone else. Our visibility alone will not protect us. We need housing, we need gender-affirming care, we need work outside survival sex work.
Cisgender people need to be actively doing the work of undoing transphobia within their communities. Otherwise, our sisters will continue to be killed and will continue experiencing homelessness. Again, we are grateful and will continue to build and re-imagine better futures for our communities.