Joe Trembly knows homelessness firsthand. When he moved to South Florida in the 80s, he found himself out of a job and living on the streets.
He's since spent decades working with Fort Lauderdale’s large LGBT community and with people affected by homelessness at the local sober living facility, Keystone Halls.
The 20-year-old center recently received a grant from the Community Foundation of Broward to help LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness have a place to stay while they get help finding permanent housing.
Trembly sat down with WLRN to talk about his own experiences with homelessness and the discrimination that still plagues a city as inclusive as Fort Lauderdale.
WLRN: You're the Homeless Management Security Officer at Keystone Halls. What does that mean?
Trembley: Keystone Halls is transitional housing primarily for veterans, or has been primarily for veterans, and a few of them that are getting out of jail. Now we’ll transition that into the LGBT community. They come here and they'll receive case management, and they'll receive life skills, relapse prevention, access to mental health, as well as employment opportunities.
The national numbers of LGBT people who experience homelessness are disproportionate; about 40 percent of LGBT youth are affected by it at some point in their lives. Why is this the case?
Society has created this stigma, and there aren't that many direct services from LGBT organizations that actually house individuals, unless they have substance abuse or maybe mental health. For just the general population of LGBT there are not those resources. They can go to the shelters, but they don't feel safe.
Why does this matter to you so much? How have your own experiences in this city driven your work?
So I came into South Florida in the late 80s and I found myself homeless ... [as a] result of losing a job and there weren't services available for me.
I stayed where I could find a place. There was a dumpster on Oakland Park, on Dixie Highway… that was a place. It was a place because it was safe.
How key is having the services that you can identify with?
Those are important. Whether you access them or not is one thing. But the mere fact that they are available sets a tone in the community so that people can feel that there is some support.
I think there's still a stigma, even in the gay community itself, with accessing certain services, homelessness being one of them. It's one thing to look for substance abuse services or mental health services or case management for HIV, and those kinds of things. But homelessness still has the stigma.
The Stonewall National Museum and Archives is releasing a new documentary that looks back at Fort Lauderdale's history in the 80s with LGBT discrimination. Do you remember what that period was like?
I remember going to a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and it just happened that one of the people in my party was very effeminate. Someone started making comments, and they started throwing food at us, and you know, we were asked to leave.
There was a lot of violence in the streets. There was a lot of attacks on people that were gay. But Fort Lauderdale has really evolved from then to now - of course, there’s a lot of room to grow.
There is a lot of discrimination inside the community with African-Americans, with Hispanics, with transgenders. That's probably one of the frustrating aspects of it, is that we seek inclusion from the community but within the community there is still not all of that unity.
Broward County has the most same-sex couples out of anywhere in Florida. Is there still any felt discrimination or bias? Is it unspoken bias?
I don't think people are as open about the bias - but it exists.
It still exists in our businesses. It can exist in services. Though we have nondiscrimination laws, we all understand that it’s not the law. It's about the attitude.
What makes you and your own family feel included here?
Though we may identify as gay, we don't view ourselves as any different. So, we just assimilate into life. I find acceptance in a lot of places. Staying here wasn't just because I called it home. I made it home, and so I make it comfortable.
Joe Trembly lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband AJ and 5-year-old son Michael. Both help him also run Showering Love, a bus with mobile showers that travels to Broward County's homeless encampments.
The documentary 'Our Broward Story', is viewable at the Stonewall Museum and Archives, and is coming soon to the museum's social media pages. It's the first short documentary in a series, as part of the John C. Graves Oral History Project.