On Friday nights the sidewalks around Santa Monica & Vine, the heart of Theater Row in East Hollywood, are lit up with energetic, well-dressed millennials out to enjoy an evening of live performance. The sounds of laughter and lively conversation permeate the neighborhood.
However, when you peer down the side streets, the lights start to dim and sidewalks turn into campgrounds for Hollywood’s homeless. Here you will find people living in dome tents while others curl up under piles of clothes and blankets, trying to sleep propped up against building facades.
This area is also part of what is known as “The Stroll,” the stretch along Santa Monica between Vermont and La Brea, where a high concentration of transgender women turn to the street economy for survival. Studies have shown that one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. Finding shelter and services that are transgender-friendly can be daunting, and they often end up as victims of violence.
Starting Friday, June 22, Midnight Stroll brings a light of hope to transgender women in this area with new services at Step Up, an organization that provides homeless facilities on Vine, one block south of Santa Monica.
Los Angeles City Council member Mitch O’Farrell was present for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and recognized the individuals who spearheaded the work. More than 30 people turned out for the event, including community members, service providers, volunteers and city representatives.
Midnight Stroll was launched last year when the City of Los Angeles partnered with local LGBTQ organizations to provide targeted outreach to transgender women living on Hollywood’s streets. Led by Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT), dozens of volunteers spend two nights per month walking the three-mile stretch along Santa Monica Boulevard providing free HIV testing, housing vouchers, condoms, snacks and water to transgender women on the street.
Under the newly expanded services, Midnight Stroll offers the After-Hours Café two nights per month from 11 p.m.-5 a.m. at Step Up’s facilities. Transgender women who drop in will find coffee, donuts, a hot shower, machines to launder their clothes, a comfortable sofa and movies on a widescreen TV. Staff can also help secure up to three emergency shelter beds per month at the Weingart Center in downtown.
Jazzmun Crayton of APAIT, a well-respected community activist, charges up the volunteers for each shift with a brief training on respectful ways to approach people before hitting the street to do their outreach. “I’ve been out here a long time, I know the Stroll, I’ve seen it change for many, many years. I remember when Target was a car wash, and the girls would hang out there and get tacos. I remember Yukon Mining Company, now it’s an apartment building. I know the Boulevard, I know what’s going on out here. I am grateful for all of you making the effort and taking the time to come up here to support and be a part of this community …” she told the crowd.
L.A.P.D. Assistant Chief Bea Girmala pointed out that 12 transgender individuals have been murdered so far this year in the U.S., and that a transgender woman of color was just recently victimized nearby at Franklin and Argyle. “One of the reasons that we are here today is that we need to emphasize and underscore the need to turn that tide of violence and hate crimes and hate incidents that are still happening within the Hollywood community and throughout Los Angeles.”
The Midnight Stroll expansion is funded by the offices of Mayor Garcetti and Council member Mitch O’Farell, with matching funds from the Caitlyn Jenner Foundation.
Garcetti states, “The Midnight Stroll was born out a simple idea: LGBTQ Angelenos living on the streets of Hollywood deserve a safe place to receive the supportive services they need. Not years from now, but today — because for too many members of this community, a night on the street versus a night under a roof can mean the difference between life and death. That urgency means pressing relentlessly forward in the fight to help everyone in desperate need get back on their feet.”
O’Farrell noted there is more transgender visibility now, and that a recent City Council vote makes Los Angeles what appears to be the first U.S. city to require transgender sensitivity training for all city personnel. He also recognized the community-based organizations that have been helping the homeless transgender population. “This is an instance where the City is really stepping in with the funding and resources, budget allocations, and the sensitivity training.”
Crayton shared with the crowd: “Just yesterday I was running around, trying to get someone in the Weingart because they were going to be on the street, but thank goodness for the Midnight Stroll because that person is housed tonight.”