The Systems That Displace Us
My Nana, a Black woman born and bred in Five Points Denver, Colorado, fought to protect her community of people living in the Denver Housing Projects for more than five decades. She was relentless in her drive towards equity and inclusion, protecting people living off of social welfare systems, urging developers to embrace people experiencing poverty as peers, not projects, and teaching her children and grandchildren to do the same. My Nana advocated to ensure that she, and everyone else potentially impacted, could afford to move into a new home in the same neighborhood amidst any new development and renewal plans that sought to destroy and bulldoze communities. She attended council meetings and demanded better services, particularly for single mothers who needed more efficient support systems and care. Any new urban planning initiatives may have started with “good intentions” but resulted in lasting inequities, ultimately removing people from their homes and forcing them into displacement, including members of my family.
Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Five Points was the seat of Denver’s African American community, the “Harlem of the West,” but an end to segregation in Denver neighborhoods and revitalization projects forever changed Five Points. By the early 2000s, the neighborhood’s population underwent a dramatic demographic alteration, “non-Hispanic whites represented 27% of the neighborhood’s population (up from 20% in 1990), blacks 26% (down from 39% in 1990), and Latinos 43% (up from 41% in 1990)” and became “one of the fastest gentrifying areas in the country.” What did these changes do? Displaced long-time residents, replaced traditional businesses and historic homes, shifted cultural identity, and, 17 years later, changed the name of historic Five Points to Rino District.
The pattern of gentrification disproportionately impacts Black residents and households. Dr. Tim Thomas, a UC-Berkeley researcher and director of the Urban Displacement Project speaks to wealthier folks moving into areas, increasing costs, and preventing low-income households from being able to afford to live there. He notes that this “bears on the backs of Black households in particular because the legacy of discrimination means very few of them can afford to still live in those spaces.” Systemic poverty and the displacement of Black and brown folks through gentrification cause homelessness, among many other factors. If we are looking for solutions to end homelessness in general, and youth homelessness in particular, we need to protect tenants who are lifetime residents of neighborhoods, produce affordable housing options, and preserve existing affordable housing with care.
My advocacy career has in-large part followed the activism work of my Nana and my Aunties, and all of the people in my family who were dealt a hand of discrimination and inequity simply because they are Black, Queer, and/or poor. I was inspired by my Nana and her fearless and authentic demeanor. So many of my favorite childhood memories include spending time at her house on Clayton St in Five Points, only subtly noticing the challenges my family faced. It wasn’t until I went to college, took Ethnic Studies courses, and started working in the Black African American Cultural Center, that I started to deeply understand race, privilege, and access in America and finally dissected all of the things that happened around me and to me growing up. I joined the team at True Colors United because of my own experiences navigating this country as a mixed-Black queer woman, surviving despite society’s gross attempts, and at times, my family’s attempt, to shame me for who I am. While I have been fortunate enough to fully embrace who I am, gain academic and professional accolades, and find stability in my finances and housing, this is not the reality for so many young people who look like and identify similarly to me.
While LGBTQ+ youth make up only 7% of the total U.S. youth population, they comprise 29% of all young people experiencing homelessness. Young people who are Black or multiracial and LGBTQ+ experience the
highest rates of homelessness and housing instability. For transgender, nonbinary, and gender-non-conforming youth in particular, trends in state lawmaking that are denying medically necessary care for transgender youth, mandating teachers, school counselors, and nurses to report transgender youth to parents who may not be accepting, and redefining best practices in gender-affirming health care as “child abuse” increase the risk and incidence of becoming homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2023 Point-in-Time count revealed a 28% increase in homelessness among transgender and gender non-conforming youth. LGBTQ+ young people need to be explicitly protected from discrimination when accessing housing or services related to homelessness.
As you navigate this website, pay very close attention to localities creating incredibly harmful and violent environments for LGBTQ+ young people because of their discriminatory policies.
As we envision a future where all young people thrive and have the power to shape their own lives, let us remember the tireless work of our ancestors who fought for our safety, liberation, autonomy, and power. To my Nana in heaven, may your relentless spirit continue to live on in me as I continue to fight and advocate for a future without homelessness, displacement, and discrimination.