Nonprofit Building Tiny Homes For Trans Women Living On The Streets

CBS4's Adriana Diaz spoke with Kayla Gore about the permanent housing initiative.

Video Transcript

- Dozens of states are considering new laws to restrict the rights of transgender Americans. This, as we're learning one in five has been homeless at one time or another.

- CBS News correspondent, Adriana Diaz, found a nonprofit giving permanent housing to some of those who are most at risk. one tiny home at a time.

KAYLA GORE: Have you got the survival kits? I can do the banana pudding.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Every Thursday at this park in Memphis, you can find Kayla Gore handing out hot meals and hope to those living on the streets.

KAYLA GORE: You're welcome.

- You're welcome.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Kayla herself was homeless 10 years ago.

KAYLA GORE: Other people who were experiencing homelessness kind of showed me how to stay safe because I'm a transgender woman, I'm black. So they taught me how to sleep on top of buildings, how to hide my clothes during the day.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Being cared for by the community is what informs her work, now, at My Sistah's House, an organization she co-founded in her hometown of Memphis that provides emergency housing to transgender people in need.

KAYLA GORE: A lot of people will not understand, like, the experiences of trans people not having access to jobs in the first place. We have access to menial jobs, like in a warehouse.

Tennessee is an at will state, so you can be fired for any reason or no reason.

ADRIANA DIAZ: She says trans people face higher discrimination at work, which leads to job loss, but there's another issue.

KAYLA GORE: A lot of folks don't have addresses where they can actually put on an application to get a job.

ADRIANA DIAZ: So you can't get a house or rent an apartment because you don't have a job and stable employment. And it's hard to get stable employment if you don't have an address to show where you live.

KAYLA GORE: Exactly. [LAUGHS] It makes no sense.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Trans people are more likely to live in temporary housing-- hotels, rooms for rent or staying with friends and family, situations which can quickly decline to homelessness.

That's especially true for black trans women, more than half of whom have been homeless. Then when COVID-19 hit, Gore says the demand for housing at her organization tripled.

KAYLA GORE: The people who weren't able to work-- people were being kicked out of their places. And they were coming here, and we didn't have the capacity to house people.

ADRIANA DIAZ: That's when the tiny homes project was born--

[MUSIC PLAYING/HAMMERING]

--the mission to build 20 tiny homes for trans women of color to own. That way they'll never have to rent again.

KAYLA GORE: We're in hopes of acquiring all of these lots.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Through crowdfunding and donations, the nonprofit raised almost $600,000 to purchase land and break ground. And almost a year since the project began, the first homeowner is Alexis Jackson, who was once homeless after a fallout with her family.

ALEXIS JACKSON: This will be my kitchen space. My stove will go right here.

ADRIANA DIAZ: This 400 square feet is her sanctuary.

ALEXIS JACKSON: I was in the depths of alcoholism, financial struggle, and I don't ever want to go back to where I was at. My living room space and the way my ceilings are set up is my favorite part of my home.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

KAYLA GORE: Providing these homes to trans folks is giving them that safety and security. A vast majority of the trans murders are associated with people who are experiencing homelessness.

I feel like Harriet Tubman. [LAUGHS] I feel like I'm giving people a pathway to success in life. Harriet Tubman had to do her work in secrecy. We're doing it out loud and proud.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Adriana Diaz, CBS News.