How We Can Support Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Xavier Mann

Francisca Ferreira Dr Vasconcelos showing a photo of her daughter, Dandara Dos Santos, 42, who was brutally killed in Brazil last month.(NYTIMES)

Francisca Ferreira Dr Vasconcelos showing a photo of her daughter, Dandara Dos Santos, 42, who was brutally killed in Brazil last month.(NYTIMES)

Early March, a video surfaced. It was shot using a cellphone camera and it featured Dandora dos Santos, a 42-year-old transgender woman from Brazil. The video circulating on social media platforms like YouTube shows Santos being kicked, brutally beaten with a plank of wood, and thrown into a wheel barrow before being carted off to an alley by multiple assailants. Santos is then shot twice in the face and bludgeoned to death. This gruesome story is apart of a larger narrative of the violence inflicted upon transgender people in Brazil, where murders of transgender people have tripled since 2008. 

This is not an anomaly. Globally, according to a report released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights titled Discrimination and Violence Against Individuals Based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, "Between 2008 and 2014, there were 1,612 murders, across 62 countries, of transgender persons." This is equivalent to a killing every two days. 

In Chicago, trans women on the West Side do not trust the Chicago Police Department,  perhaps because transgender people face relatively high rates of harassment and discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. Last year in September, T.T. Saffore was the third transgender person to be killed in or near Chicago's Garfield Park neighborhood. The Chicago Police Department consistently refused to acknowledge Saffore as a transgender woman and misgendered her has a man as they proceeded with the investigation. 

A portrait of TT Saffore by Melisa Stephen of For The People Artists Collective

A portrait of TT Saffore by Melisa Stephen of For The People Artists Collective

Oftentimes this cycle of marginalization and violence begins early on in the lives of individuals who identify as transgender. Transgender youth are particularly vulnerable to homelessness due to family rejection, bullying in school, sexual violence, and a lack of resources that culturally and appropriately serve them. Because of these factors, rates of suicide attempts and substance abuse are significantly higher for trans youth. Even homeless shelters can be hostile environments for transgender youth and oftentimes they are pushed out into the streets where they are exposed to violence and sexual exploitation. Click here to gain an understanding on how we all can better support transgender and gender nonconforming youth who are experiencing homelessness. 


There are several organizations in Chicagoland that work with LGBTQIA individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Here are two organizations that provide educational resources and volunteer opportunities, as well as a WBEZ list of organizations in need of support.

The Night Ministry - Youth Housing

Youth Outlook - Youth Services

WBEZ - 14 Chicago LGBTQ organizations you should know