Having shelter is a fundamental human right: The story of Princess Janae Place

March 30, 2020

To help us celebrate Trangender Day of Visibility, we sat down with Jevon Martin, CEO and Founder of Princess Janae Place, to ask him some questions about his life and work.

Princess Janae Place is New York State's first and only community-based housing organization led by, and for, trans people. They work to eradicate homelessness by helping eradicate homlessness particularly trans people and people of color – find permanent housing, and provide medical, legal, housing, mental health, and social services to anyone that needs them. Jevon is taking over our Instagram account on Monday, March 30 to share his story, why he’s fighting to eradicate homeless for trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNBI) people, and how he’s helping build a community for trans people in NYC. 

What does Transgender Day of Visibility mean to you? 

I see Transgender Day of Visibility as an opportunity to lift up the stories of trans people navigating the world today. There are so many amazing trans folks living incredible lives who don’t make the front page of the news. Storytelling is powerful as illustrating the challenges we face is important to increase awareness with larger audiences.  

What is the mission of Princess Janae Place? 

The mission of Princess Janae Place is to help trans people maximize their full potential by securing independent living after experiencing homelessness. We offer people a safe space in an unsafe world, acting as a bridge to help connect them to resources that are often intimidating to trans people used to facing stigma. One in five transgender people in the United States has faced discrimination when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity. No one should be denied housing because of their gender identity, so we make sure that our clients are connected to the right people and places to secure housing and thrive.

What inspired the name Princess Janae Place?

The inspiration behind the name of the organization comes from Princess Janae Banks, an icon in the NYC ballroom and pageantry scene and mainstay in the entertainment industry. Janae was kicked out of her home at the age of 18 for identifying as transgender, but she soon found a safe and affirming home within the NYC ballroom scene. Janae worked for decades as an accomplished entertainer in some of NYC’s most famous venues. Because of her experience, Janae was a champion throughout her adult life for transgender individuals at risk of homelessness and housing insecurity. Janae passed away in 2013, and we work every day to further her legacy supporting the transgender community.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work? The most rewarding?

The most challenging part of my work is when I see people so hurt and wounded by their circumstances. Finding yourself as you grow up is one of the hardest things we do in our lives. But imagine having to come of age while also experiencing housing insecurity. I see these people, who are so full of life and deserve so much, struggle to secure the basic needs so many of us take for granted. It really breaks my heart.

On the flip side, the most rewarding part of my work is seeing those same people flourish. When we first come into contact with our clients, I often see the promise in them that they don’t see in themselves. Working with them to secure housing and giving them a stable base to grow from is so rewarding – they quickly start to see the potential I always knew was there. 

What is your most impactful program?

Our most impactful program is our HART program, which helps TGNCNBI people find homes. Because of the stigma and transphobia that often follows the community. It’s particularly challenging for them to find permanent housing. In the last two years alone, we’ve helped 90 people of transgender experience find permanent housing through the HART program. We’ve also partnered with Gilead Sciences through their TRANScend Community Impact Fund, which will allow us to grow the program, help even more people find homes, and provide additional resources to those transitioning from homelessness to independent living. 

How is coronavirus impacting your work?

The coronavirus makes the work we do more urgent than ever. TGNCNBI people experiencing homelessness are increasingly vulnerable due to the pressures that coronavirus creates. Homeless trans people are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sleeping in encampments with inadequate hygiene is especially dangerous right now given the additional risk of arrest due to NYC’s shelter in place order. But the alternative is going to a shelter, places trans folks often avoid because of stigma – not to mention, they’re crowded, making them dangerous places to go in a moment where we need to isolate from one another. Finding permanent housing for our clients where they can live independently and safely is crucial not only for themselves but for society as a whole.  

What can our readers do to help?

The first thing that everyone can do right now is to stay safe and take the necessary actions, like social distancing and frequent hand-washing, to keep others safe too. Our clients are among those who will be hit the hardest by coronavirus, so the sooner we can get the situation under control, the better off they will be. That means everyone working together and playing their part to stop the spread of the virus. Additionally, we are always looking for people in New York City to house homeless members of our community in open rooms in their homes, volunteer their time, and of course, donate whatever they can to help us continue changing lives. A $100 donation means one day of stable housing and support services for our clients – it can change everything.