Trans woman says discrimination at Montreal homeless shelters has forced her onto the street

62 year old Jacquelyn Gelderblom says she's sleeping in a children’s park because she can't get a bed in a homeless shelter.

"I'm learning which ones are good..." says Gelderblom. "and they are all no good for transgender."

She switches between the terms transgender and Two Spirit, a First Nations term used to describe certain queer identities, to describe herself. 

Gelderblom says she transitioned at 40 years old when she left a reserve in eastern Quebec for Montreal where she thought she might have a better chance at finding support, but rejected by her family after her transition she struggled with addiction and became homeless.

She says both men’s and women’s shelters refused to house her.

"They ask you when you arrive 'take a shower before to have a bed' so I take off my clothes and go to take a shower and someone says 'You... get out'," she says. "So it was enough. I didn't go back. Women’s shelters here are worse."

Gelderblom says she's been sober for nearly 4 years, exposing her forearms and elbows which are clear of track-marks, but in her 60s and after several years of hard-living, her body can't handle providing home-care for the elderly as she has in the past, let alone go back to her previous profession as a longshore worker.

Without an address she says it’s difficult to access social services.

Gelderblom is not the only trans or Two Spirit person forced to sleep on the street, Gabrielle Bouchard with Concordia's center for Gender Advocacy says others may turn to survival sex work to avoid violence in shelters or sleeping outside.

"Trans women are mostly refused in shelters not just in Montreal but in Quebec in general," says Bouchard. "Most shelters refuse to even acknowledge that they have a problem with this, that there is strong transphobia amongst these organizations and that they need to move to stop that." 

LGBTQ2 people are more than twice as likely to face homelessness than straight and cisgender people in Canada.

Bouchard says it's illegal to discriminate based on sexuality or gender identity.

"Refusing people because they are trans is actually against the charter of human rights in Quebec," says Bouchard. "They know they're pretty safe against any lawsuit or any complaint because most homeless people just don't have the strength, or abilities, or time and resources to do it."

Gelderblom says she's been told that she's viewed as a threat by other women in shelters who've survived domestic abuse.

"They're scared, it's normal… for women who faced violence by their husbands," she says. "But the thing is, I'm not dangerous."

CJAD 800 reached out to several emergency shelters most did not respond, one organization asked not to be identified saying that generally only transgender women who pass and have had surgical sex changes may qualify for a bed in their shelter, saying victims of domestic abuse don’t feel safe in their presence. 

A spokesperson from the Federation of Quebec women’s shelters says all their Montreal shelters accept trans women regardless of surgical status. 

They say it may be that the shelters have simply been full, as they turn down about 2/3rds of the requests for emergency shelter received.