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A unique program in Philadelphia aims to decrease LGBTQ homelessness

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

LGBTQ people are twice as likely to experience homelessness. In Philadelphia, there's a unique program that aims to address that. Michaela Winberg of member station WHYY took a look at how it's working out.

MICHAELA WINBERG, BYLINE: Asyod Boyd's personality is on display all over his Southwest Philadelphia apartment. He's got a set of weights in the bedroom and his favorite snack in the pantry - Uncrustables. Boyd even has a pet, a tiny iguana who munches on cucumber slices in the living room.

ASYOD BOYD: It was my loophole around my landlord's no pet rule. Because it was like no dogs, no cats. And if I do get one, it's an extra $50 a month. And I'm not doing that, even though I'm not paying all of my rent right now thanks to the program.

WINBERG: He's talking about a one-of-a-kind rapid rehousing program called Way Home for LGBTQ People. This kind of short-term rental assistance is used widely by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, plus cities, states and nonprofits nationwide. Some programs use rapid rehousing to help LGBTQ youth. But this program in Philadelphia is unique because it serves LGBTQ adults. Cara Tratner runs the Way Home program for the nonprofit SELF Incorporated.

CARA TRATNER: There's actually really a lack of housing programs for the LGBTQ and specifically for the trans community in general in kind of all the levels - emergency housing, transitional housing or permanent housing.

WINBERG: Research shows stable housing has a ripple effect. It reduces the likelihood that a person will be a victim of violence or that they'll suffer an early death. That's a threat that continues to grow each year, especially for Black trans women. Boyd, who's trans, had to sleep in his car for two years after his father kicked him out of the house. It was a tough way to live. His car ran out of gas all the time because he'd fall asleep with the heat on. He racked up thousands of dollars in parking violations. The worst part was when he learned a close friend had died, and he had to grieve that loss from his front seat.

BOYD: See, it's different from having those moments where you can be, like, emotional in the privacy of your own home and then emotional where it's like anybody can walk past and see you.

WINBERG: He learned about Way Home at a doctor's appointment. The program started in 2020 and pays a portion of rent in private apartments for 40 LGBTQ Philadelphians. Rantik Parikh is a landlord with the program. As a first-generation immigrant from India, Parikh still remembers when he needed a little help getting settled in the United States. Now he feels like he's paying it forward.

RANTIK PARIKH: I realize they are wonderful people, you know, and they just need a break, and everybody needs a little support in bad times.

WINBERG: That's not to say the program is perfect. Right now, Way Home's waitlist is more than three times its capacity. Tenants get no more than one year of help, no exceptions. And there are no support services like mental health counseling or medical care that can help people stay housed. Matthew Morton is a research fellow studying youth homelessness at the University of Chicago.

MATTHEW MORTON: I would be concerned that young people who have faced higher levels of adversity in general, including LGBTQ youth, would be more at risk of experiencing homelessness again.

WINBERG: At least for Boyd, the program is helping. With his rent cut in half for the last nine months, he's finally been able to save money. He got a job at a landscaping company, which he loves. He's confident in his future.

BOYD: When April hits, I know that's when I take over the step of paying the full 800 myself. And, like, utility bills-wise, it ain't nothing, so I'm not really stressing it.

WINBERG: If there are tenants who aren't ready to stand on their own after a year, Tratner says she'll try to help them find another program to keep them afloat. For NPR news, I'm Michaela Winberg in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.