Heather is a trans woman (she/her) who is homeless. She has recently decided to share her harrowing story of how she was treated in a Salvation Army shelter on her Twitter @milknmuffins, and it struck a cord with a lot of people, inspiring them to want to further help their homeless communities and carefully consider the charity organisations they support. I got the chance to talk to Heather so as to further understand why she claims we should never donate to The Salvation Army. This is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation over Twitter DMs.
Emma Victoria: Hello Heather! So, we have to start with the elephant in the room – why should we not donate to the Salvation Army?
Heather: The Salvation Army’s record on LGBTQ issues is storied, and their sordid reputation on that front is well earned. I have to admit, I don’t know much about how their organization is run. Because I’ve only seen it through the lens of political ideology and my own personal experiences at this particular shelter (SAFES, Portland, Oregon). But in my opinion, the simplest answer is that there are local, more efficient organizations out there with less of a profit motive, and perhaps more importantly, less of a political agenda. The profit motive is at the heart of the problem, here. They’re a for-profit non-profit organization.
EV: Did The Salvation Army ever make you feel unsafe?
H: Yeah. Three years ago when I was suddenly thrown out of this shelter over a minor infraction. I had asked another woman here which bed number she was in. So they wrote me up for trying to obtain personal information and I was barred for 60 days as a breach of my confidentiality agreement.
EV: That’s terrible – do you believe that being a trans woman has affected your experience with these type of organisations?
H: Oh for sure. There’s a lot of resentment among the cis women that we’re even allowed to be here in the first place. I get a “he” or “him” a lot. I’ve been called a man. Not by the staff, mind you, but it’s not much of a stretch to assume at least a few of them feel the same way and merely bite their tongues because management won’t tolerate it. I pretty often get stopped at the door by someone body blocking me and saying something like “Sir? Sir! Excuse me, but this is a woman’s shelter! You can’t be here!”
EV: It’s a shame to hear misgendering is so commonplace… Now that you have taken a stance for homeless people, do you have any advice for the ever growing number of teens on the streets?
H: Um. God, I don’t know. A lot of things. Don’t give up hope? There’s always a path to victory. You have to be able to look at yourself and self-critique. Ask yourself honestly, “What do I want?” “What do I need to do to get what I want?” And then ask yourself if your friends and your environment are helping you with that? You have to be able to cut toxic people out of your life. Even if they’re your own family.
EV: Are there any misconceptions you would like to clear up about the homeless community?
H: We aren’t all addicts, and we aren’t all mentally ill, and even if we were, it shouldn’t make any difference. A lot of us are fleeing bad situations. Or we’re just suffering some temporary misfortune, like a lost job. Women at this shelter are detoxing from heroin or meth addictions, or hiding from abusive exes. Most of us just want to be treated like adult people. Dignity is important.
EV: So now we’ve gained an insight into why we should not donate to the Salvation Army – what should the well-meaning people who truly want to help homeless people do instead?
H: I encourage well-meaning people to donate and volunteer to local charities and food banks, local shelters, and so on, and to keep their eyes peeled for individual people in their communities who need a bit of help. And crowdfunding, I feel, is just such an amazing resource that people aren’t paying much attention to.
EV: Are all shelters as bad as the Salvation Army?
H: Obviously not. Some are better I’m sure, and some are far far worse.
EV: Is there something else you would like our readers to know?
H: Trans women are women. And we just wanna pee in peace.
EV: You can find Heather on Twitter @milknmuffins. Thank you so much for your time and valuable insight!