For Baltimore Safe Haven, the announcement that the city is partnering with them on a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ youth is huge.
The nonprofit and the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services are the recipients of a $488,083 federal grant to provide transitional shelter for homeless transgender youth and others.
“In Baltimore City, you have never had a person of lived experience get this far – someone like me, a Black trans woman who’s been on the streets and had to turn to sex work,” Iya Dammons, Safe Haven founder and executive director, said in an interview with The Brew.
“Having someone like that as a leader in this body of work is what’s needed,” Dammons continued, applauding Mayor Brandon Scott and his staff for backing up their words with actions.
Scott last week announced that Baltimore’s Continuum of Care, which is granted authority under a 2008 federal housing law, will administer funding for the project from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Safe Haven’s mission is to provide avenues for a higher quality of life for TLGBQ people in Baltimore living in survival mode. It started in 2019, initially providing services out of a minivan, according to this profile of Dammons.
Dammons attracted attention early on, lauded on social media by actress Gabrielle Union for working to help transgender women get out of a life of prostitution and addiction, “taking her cause to the streets.”
The nonprofit has a drop-in center on Greenmount Avenue, mobile services, transitional housing and other programs that Dammons says have improved clients’ lives dramatically.
“We watch them graduate from different high schools, community colleges, vocational schools and just provide them with the resources and tools they needed all along but just haven’t gotten” she said.
The partnership with MOHS will offer seven housing units and case management services that connect youth to primary healthcare and mental health services.
The money will also help Safe Haven continue programming that includes GED classes and workforce development and job opportunities.
“For many of our LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness, this grant represents the difference between security and vulnerability as they transition to permanent housing,” Mayor Scott said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
The partnership is one of four federally funded youth homelessness demonstration programs in the city. Others launched this spring include a shelter diversion project, a rapid rehousing project and a permanent supportive housing project.
“To end homelessness, we must ensure that our efforts are inclusive and made for the specific needs of our most vulnerable community members, especially those who experience discrimination because of their identity and sexual orientation,” said Irene Agustin, who was recently appointed director of MOHS.