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In race to house homeless, LA makes space for transgender women

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Casa Zulma is the county’s first publicly funded “bridge” shelter for transgender women

Casa Zulma.
By Jessica Flores

Next month, more than a dozen women are set to move into a blush pink Craftsman home in the Koreatown area. They’ll be the first residents in the county’s first publicly funded “bridge” shelter for homeless transgender women.

The shelter is named for Zulma Velasquez, a former staff member with APAIT, a behavioral health and HIV/AIDS service provider, who died in August. Velasquez used to host weekly coffee talks called “Cafecito with Zulma” at APAIT’s office in Koreatown with queer and transgender community members to discuss the issues they face.

Jake Weinraub, a clinical program manager with APAIT, which will help manage the shelter, says the organization intends to carry on Velasquez’s beloved tradition.

“We’re hoping to build a pretty regular schedule of programming here with ritual and sort of consistency for the residents,” he says.

Casa de Zulma holds 16 beds and will provide supportive services, including psychotherapy and substance use support. Residents will be allowed to stay for 90 days, with the option to extend, says Weinraub.

APAIT will manage the property with the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS), a South LA homeless services agency. APAIT will help residents find permanent housing while HOPICS will provide daily behavioral and life skills programming.

“We recognized early on that it is critical to provide safe spaces for vulnerable populations like the transgender community,” Veronica Lewis, director of HOPICS, said in a statement. “We hope this is the first step to expanding purposeful and intentional efforts from the public sector.”

The home was previously used for women sobriety programs and was converted to homeless housing with $408,000 in funding from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

This living room will be used as a meeting area for group programs.

Located in Councilman Herb Wesson’s district, Casa de Zulma is “leading the way in Los Angeles County as the first transgender housing for homeless women,” Wesson said in a statement.

“With open arms we welcome Casa de Zulma and all of its residents to the 10th District, and thank them for protecting these members of our community.”

Casa de Zulma will open as hate crimes against the LGBTQ and transgender communities are increasing. According to the FBI’s crime statistics report released last week, the number of crimes targeting transgender and gender nonconforming people nationally spiked 41 percent since last year.

“We are prone to violence, homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness,” Jazzmun Crayton, a health and policy coordinator with APAIT, said in a statement. “We have to build alliances, acquire resources, and create safe affordable spaces to dwell and live in.”