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Giving homeless transgender youth a safe haven from the streets

Homelessness is a reality for many young transgender Americans. In Washington, a row house has been turned into a safe haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who have nowhere else to go. Hari Sreenivasan talks to the group home's founder about creating a space that is safe, fun and feels like home for those who may have been kicked out by their families for being different.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Hari Sreenivasan is back with a report on one of a handful of programs in the country that's helping homeless transgender youth get their footing in society.

    It's another in our Transgender in America series.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It looks like any other row house in Washington, D.C., but Ruby Corado's house is different. It's a safe haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who have nowhere else to go.

    Fifteen, 20 years ago, if you were trans, you were living in a house, you walked out on a stoop like this and some kids were walking by, what's the likely reaction then vs. now?

  • RUBY CORADO:

    Fifteen years ago?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yes.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    It was impossible to be me during the day. We were segregated to the underground world. Today, we can be trans in the entire city. It's still hard, but we can still be ourselves. And we take those risks because, deep inside of us, we are happy.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Creating happiness is all-important to Corado, as she showed us on the grand tour.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    The first thing that welcomes you is the rainbow.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    We have chandeliers, so that means there's plenty of light. And when you go up, you will see a lot of glitter.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, you have got to have a gay flag, a chandelier, and lots of glitter?

  • RUBY CORADO:

    Yes. And you have to have lots of colors.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Got it.

    She's opening this group home up to 10 people, with the help of a $350,000 grant from a D.C. nonprofit, and trying to make it safe, inviting and infused with fun.

    What is going on here? We have got a chair shaped like a high-heeled shoe?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • RUBY CORADO:

    Divas. Divas can live in this house.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, will you have a roommate when you live here?

  • RUBY CORADO:

    Yes. So, each room — in some rooms, there's space for three.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The young people who qualify to live here range from 18 to 24 years old, and can stay for up to a year-and-a-half. Many have been kicked out by their families for being different. Ruby Corado, who is transgender herself, knows firsthand.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    We grow up in homes where there is no understanding of what transgender is. And the only information that is out there is that it's not good.

    So, therefore, that information basically paints a picture that we're not good, that we — that there's something wrong, and many parents don't want something wrong in their homes so, they just get rid of them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Corado is trying to build them a new family.

    For some people, this mattress is the most comfortable thing they have had since their life on the streets.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    And like I told them, I want — this is going to be theirs. If they do good, obviously, they can take it with them, because it's theirs. It's there where they build their dreams, because I want them to dream. And if this is the place where they dream — there were times when I was living in a shelter where I have so many dreams, and I couldn't take the mattress. So, I want them to know this is theirs. I will buy another one. And then it's just how much — I don't want this to just be a shelter. I want this to be a home where pink is OK, where red is OK, where light — I don't want them to live in the dark.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Life in the streets is reality for the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States. And of that, an estimated 20 to 40 percent are LGBT. The National Center for Transgender Equality says one in five transgender people has been homeless at some point in their lives.

    People are going to say, listen, there's shelters around if you're homeless. What's the difference if you're transgender and you go to a homeless shelter?

  • RUBY CORADO:

    For the most part, we're told from the get-go we do not qualify. For example, if someone tries to go to a female shelter as a trans woman, they literally tell you, you can't sleep there because you're not female.

    And then, when you go to the male shelter, they do take you, but then, once again, they put you in dangerous conditions, where, eventually, you don't want to go to the shelter.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, you're back on the street.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    That is why it's — you end up on the streets.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What kinds of people are coming to need your services?

  • RUBY CORADO:

    Very often, if they are really young, they come in because their parents are kicking them out of their homes. If they're a little older, like 16 through 21, 22, they get referred to me by the criminal justice system, where they tell them all, don't come back with issues. And if you come back to court, you know, I will put you in jail, but go to Ruby, and she will take care of you.

    And, you know, it's kind of weird, because I know family — their families, society is turning their back on them. But, to me, it's my treasure. When I see them walking in the door, it's like I have a great opportunity to help someone like me, so they don't have to go through what I went through.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Giselle Hartzog is one of the first transgender residents to live here after leaving her home in Gulfport, Mississippi, and turning to prostitution.

    You would sleep at the train station?

  • GISELLE HARTZOG:

    Mm-hmm, at Union station, until they wake us up and tell us, you can't sleep here or something. And then, sometimes, you would be just so lucky to catch a bus, I mean, one of those buses that come and pick up the people to go to a shelter for a night.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    These are pretty nice mattresses compared to your — the bench at Union Station. How does that change things for you?

  • GISELLE HARTZOG:

    It changes a lot of things, because you can just — I mean, I have something to look forward to, you know?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You feel safe here?

  • GISELLE HARTZOG:

    Mm-hmm.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Compared to where you have been staying in different…

  • GISELLE HARTZOG:

    A lot safer.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How so?

  • GISELLE HARTZOG:

    Just in the simple fact of, I mean, I have somewhere to call my home, just that security.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    I wish I had more to give them. I wish I had 20 houses to put everyone in. And I wish I could build my own little world, my own little neighborhood, where it would be OK to be you.

    And as I work on that, I do know that for those that make it here, I can love them, and in the process, I can make it easier for them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You mentioned you would love to create your own little world, but the reality is that there's this other one already here.

  • RUBY CORADO:

    Correct. Yes.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    While they might have that nurturing and that support in these walls, they walk out on the street…

  • RUBY CORADO:

    I see a different world today. There are people in our — in this neighborhood who know who we are and they look at us and they respect us.

    We're not being dehumanized. So, I think that the stability is important, being able to show the world what is wrong, because if they don't know they're doing something wrong, maybe they can't change when they don't know.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Corado says she has more applicants than beds and that the house is already full.

    In Washington, for the PBS NewsHour, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

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