2015/02/24/A letter from the property owner
- when: 2015/02/24
- author: Logan J. Bruch
- source: Google Drive
- topics: Trans* Housing Atlanta Program homelessness apologies
- link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jdJit1jzr6PRB CeUehIxSPd4CvlpibsFsuE jw8sZs/pub
- title: A letter from the property owner
- summary: "As a queer radical disabled trans* person who has a history of housing insecurity, it is incredibly important to me that every person coming into contact with Trans* Housing Atlanta Program is treated with utmost respect; especially in regards to consent and accountability practices, autonomy and freedom from coercion, and having their privacy maintained and respected. Recently I have discovered that Trans* Housing Atlanta Program has unequivocally failed our clients around these issues and overall in our mission to provide safe housing and supportive services to the transgender and gender non-conforming community of Georgia. I am sorry."
- via The Little Green House @ Facebook
In September of 2010, six months after my 30th birthday, I walked out my front door and lost almost everything. Supposedly my wife and I were just taking a break, but before the calendar year ended I found myself standing three thousand miles from home listening to the voice on the other end of the line tell me not to come back and that my access to our accounts had been blocked. Including anything I might've used to get myself back home. Some personal things, my dog, and a little starter home back in Atlanta, rented out to someone at the time, was all I had left to my name. The rental income covered the mortgage note so I didn’t get foreclosed, but none of this was helpful in the more urgent housing issue I was suddenly facing. As a trans* person I had few options, none of which felt safe and affirming, even in a city like Seattle. I ended up staying in an abusive relationship well past when I recognized the danger just so I’d have a place to sleep. When that was no longer a viable solution, I bounced around to wherever I could find. The path I was sent down by my divorce is one whose impact I can only begin to relay the significance of to others, but I do believe knowing the basics of this story is helpful in understanding how I came to be doing what I am doing now with that same little starter home.
As a queer radical disabled trans* person who has a history of housing insecurity, it is incredibly important to me that every person coming into contact with Trans* Housing Atlanta Program is treated with utmost respect; especially in regards to consent and accountability practices, autonomy and freedom from coercion, and having their privacy maintained and respected. Recently I have discovered that Trans* Housing Atlanta Program has unequivocally failed our clients around these issues and overall in our mission to provide safe housing and supportive services to the transgender and gender non-conforming community of Georgia. I am sorry.
As the property owner who worked last year to raise over $15,000 in private donations that made this project possible and who currently commits about 20% of my own household’s monthly income to keep it going, I can tell you that I have no intention of allowing this project to grow into another gatekeeping, non-responsive, classist, racist, non-profit industrial complex money pit of ineffectiveness. I believe that the only way to avoid that at this time is to disassociate myself, my investment, and my property completely and immediately from Trans* Housing Atlanta Program for my own safety and the safety and well being of the tenants currently housed on the property.
When I entered into a partnership with Trans* Housing Atlanta Program, I fully expected that every representative of THAP would consistently act with a level of professionalism, integrity, and transparency that could never cast our actions in a questionable light. I hoped that doing so might give rise to an organizational culture of accountability in which we measured our success by looking at the impact we have in our communities rather than just our intentions for our communities; one that uses feedback to grow even more intentional about building understanding around and actively working to disrupt the systemic oppression that brings clients to us in the first place. This is the way to build genuinely safe, affirming emergency and transitional housing options for all the glorious and intersectional trans* identities of every single client. The threats faced by trans* communities are already too great to accept anything less from ourselves.
In trying to participate in this endeavor remotely (I now live in Chicago), I was already growing more and more frustrated with THAP's non-responsiveness and poor communication, especially when the tiny bit of information I was hearing started to concern me. By the time my concerns drove me back to Atlanta to check on things, my little informal audit revealed serious privacy violations; subjective, potentially discriminatory intake practices; mistreatment of clients, including accessibility issues; incredibly troublesome power dynamics; and unacceptably oppressive policies highlighting a lack of intersectional thinking around issues directly affecting our clientele. Beyond livid with my findings, I concluded that the philosophical differences between myself and THAP were too great to overcome.
There is one practice that I found so particularly egregious that I wanted to take the time here to directly address it. Background checks were one of my concerns and I was already planning to speak more with THAP about eliminating them. Upon discovering that potential clients were, as a matter of standard procedure, asked to visit the police department themselves and obtain their own background check, including incurring associated costs, I asked via email that the policy end immediately and was, once again, completely ignored by the board.
It is clear to me that if we do not possess among us any of the varied and intersectional cultural competencies that would help us understand the extremely problematic, oppressive nature of this practice enough to not do it in the first place, it will never be in the best interests of clients to reveal their record of interactions with the state to THAP. I do not accept on any level that sending homeless trans* people to the police station is a measure we take out of concern for their safety, and neither should they. With an awareness around my own privilege in place, it is easy to see, just by all that I’ve gotten away with in my life, how completely useless background checks are. If I were policed more equitably, my own background check might pull up DUIs, drugs charges, multiple assaults, resisting arrest, trespassing, shoplifting, reckless driving, and public intoxication. That’s just off the top of my head from high school and college. The fact is, though, my background check is clear because I am white and middle class, therefore not subjected to the same kind of policing as others. The racist, classist nature of policing makes the practice of obtaining background checks useless at best. The practice is poorly performed security theatre that told clients far more about us as an organization than it told us about them and subjected clients to a completely unacceptable risk of trauma. I am, among other things, incredibly embarrassed that this happened and I won’t be a part of it. Any client that paid for a background check will be reimbursed double as a gesture of reparation for the potential impact of their interactions with police.
Moving forward, the folks at the little green house are just getting re-started, working to put together something better suited to the needs of our communities. We would like to assure you that from here out, anyone seeking assistance from us will always be treated with respect. We will always adhere to best practices and professional standards, especially with regard to privacy. This month, March of 2015, is my 35th birthday. Six months from now will mark 5 years since I lost everything. No matter what happens between now and then with this project, I must be able to look back and see that I acted with integrity, transparency, and compassion. The decision to break with Trans* Housing Atlanta Program is the only option that aligns with that standard at this time. Again, I would like to express how incredibly sorry I am that so many were affected, and especially that we missed the opportunity to help folks because of our sloppiness and poor communication. If anyone reading this still needs help and is willing to give us another chance, please be in touch through our facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be so grateful and honored to have the opportunity to serve you better.
Logan J. Bruch