Tenderloin nonprofit offers transgender veteran housing security

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Hollie Beck is a 77-year-old transgender veteran. She served in the Navy from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, where in a past life as a male, she was stationed aboard a ship, based in San Diego. 

“I get choked up on what a beautiful time it was. They were my brothers,” she said now living as a woman for the past 38 years.

“I left Southern California. I was never happy. That’s what the Golden Gate Bridge offers, is the promise of a new beginning. Happiness – a community that was accepting.” 

She considers the mid ‘70s her rebirth; a time where she was “born again” but not in the religious sense. “You can’t believe you had a second chance.”

Formerly known as the AIDS Housing Alliance, The Q Foundation is a non-profit organization in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Since 2004 they have sought to help LGBTQ residents and those with AIDS/HIV, many of them seniors, with housing.

“Brian [Basinger] and the Q Foundation, they’ve given me a new chance. The VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] sent me there.”

Moving to San Francisco not only signified a geological change, but also a profound physical transformation. “Gender reassignment was traumatic in the ‘80s. Most trans people in the 1980s were persona non grata.”

She describes that time in the city for trans people as rife with police harassment and other forms of discrimination where sex work for the trans community seemed to be the only way to make money. 

“My sisters were there. I had nowhere else to go. Then the AIDS epidemic struck. You get those midnight phone calls for years and years. People were disappearing and you’d lose them.” 

Beck also found her life partner in the Bay Area. They had a 40-year relationship.  

“It worked. It was great in so many ways,” Beck said about her partner. But when he died a few years ago, suddenly she wasn’t so sure she could afford housing. 

“When he died I thought that was over.” 

She only earns Social Security and is not considered a disabled veteran. She’s lived in her Ocean Beach studio apartment for 26 years. 

Without her partner’s supplemental income, including a second Social Security check from him, she had to sell furniture and gifts amassed from their long-term relationship. 

“We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor. Imagine, for some people it’s death,” Beck said over the phone. 

Basinger’s first client with Q Foundation was Beck. 

“They put me in rental assistance programs. Social Security wasn’t enough to make the gap. I still have food stamps, subsidize my rent,” Beck said. “Brian is tireless.”

Beck wonders with the same curiosity she beholds her surroundings with: “Who are these people? I’ve called them saints.”

Basinger, 52, and his partner, James Nykolay, founded Q Foundation, but Basinger is no stranger to the non-profit community with the work he does. “I’m attracted to instigating new movements,” he said over the phone.  

“I’ve been doing this work since I was 17-years-old. The cavalry isn’t coming for the LGBTQ community. Nobody is looking out for us. When it comes to housing, what people think of us shows.”

As many as 5.5% homeless people in San Francisco are HIV positive. Basinger said that's about one in 20 people, which is roughly the same homeless incidence for the African-American community. Based on the city’s homeless count, the figure is more staggering for the trans-community. The incidence of homelessness in the transgender community is 21%. That means one in five transgender San Franciscans are homeless. The overall incidence of homelessness among San Francisco's LGBTQ population is 30%. 

Basinger explains these figures can be problematic and how certain populations aren’t counted correctly. 

“We experience homelessness differently. So much is shelter based. LGBTQ folks are targets in the shelter. We’re not even present to be counted. It’s systemic, it’s bias; especially as a trans person in a shelter having to use a congregate shower. That’s not something a lot of people are willing to do,” he said. 

For many younger LGBTQ homeless people, they hop from “one hookup to the next” where they are offered a place to stay in exchange for sex, he said. 

Basinger encourages his clientele to get on waiting lists for subsidized housing. The waits are long, taking years in many cases. 

"Our housing market is broken. There’s not enough housing," Basinger said. "We know subsidies work. We have to prevent all eviction. No one should be turned down for not making enough money."

Unfortunately, that is the case all too often like in Beck's situation. As many as two-thirds of subsidized housing applicants don't earn enough to qualify. So Q Foundation stepped in to provide Beck her subsidy. 

"You're evicting seniors on fixed incomes. That's the business model," said Basinger, who explained you make more money evicting seniors than college students. 

He's excited about San Francisco's ballot measure, Our City Our Home' Proposition C, which aims to raise $300 million from a business tax to provide homeless shelter and services.  

"It's the most exciting thing I've worked on," Basinger said. Half the money would go towards housing solutions. "4,000 units. That's more housing than in 30 years and we're building it right away. This is a capstone to my work.” 

Basinger remains optimistic Prop. C will pass this November. Meanwhile, he remains Hollie Beck's 'saint,' always in the fight for the LGBTQ community. 

"We don’t have families in the same way as other people do," said Basinger. "We are all we’ve got and we have to take care of each other." 

Hollie has found security for now. She likes to paint now to pass the time. “When I was in school I wanted to be an illustrator. They all talk about making the great illustrative novel. I’ve been working on it most of my life. It’s about a journey. Not about me specifically or my transition. [It's] about the city and how we behold it.” 

But she can’t ignore the good times she spent with her partner in North Beach, Chinatown and even how he’d drive her to Oakland to take her to their special place for Chinese food.