Needy transgender people have a roof over their heads again

Ms Chua at the new shelter, which is a shophouse in the eastern part of Singapore. Five residents will move in at the end of the month.
Ms Chua at the new shelter, which is a shophouse in the eastern part of Singapore. Five residents will move in at the end of the month.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Thanks to donations, The T Project is able to lease new premises for shelter

For three months, Singapore's only shelter for needy transgender people was out of a home.

The T Project had to move out of its premises when another non-governmental organisation, which had let it use its attic space, relocated.

But thanks to public donations amounting to $137,000, The T Project has started a new chapter in a new place. Two Sundays ago, its co-founder June Chua hauled furniture out of storage and into a shophouse in the eastern part of Singapore. This means its residents - who include transgender people who have been kicked out of their family homes - will have a safe haven again.

Five residents will move in at the end of the month. Two are older Singaporeans: long-term resident 79-year-old Rose and a 60-year-old who recently returned home after 12 years abroad and no longer has family support here. Ms Chua is also expecting a transgender man and two sex workers to seek shelter.

"We were very lucky that the place we found was within our budget," said Ms Chua, who signed a two-year lease for the premises.

The T Project, which was set up in 2014, is Singapore's only shelter for transgender Singaporeans. Sociologist Nicholas Harrigan at Singapore Management University said its existence is "really, really important".

Many transgender people face serious disputes with their families over their gender identity change, said the assistant professor.

"This compromises their education and support structure, something many of us take for granted. Not having these things can lead to economic disadvantages, both immediately and throughout their lives. One of the consequences of this is homelessness."

While there are no official figures on transgender residents in Singapore, international studies estimate that 1 per cent of any population identify with a gender different from the one they were born in.

One per cent of Singapore’s population would mean that some 39,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents could be transgender people.

The new shelter, like its previous incarnation, will not have its location made public, due to security concerns.

"We don't want people to come because of a curiosity factor. My transgender community is a vulnerable group so they must feel safe and protected in the shelter," said Ms Chua, 43.

To ramp up security, the shelter will have CCTV cameras and a key card for entrances for monitoring movements within the shelter.

There are new rules and a committee to answer to.

Residents cannot use drugs and must be actively looking for a job if their age and health permit. Their stay will be reviewed every three months.

"We want to get their lives more organised, perhaps eventually run training at the shelter and link them to jobs, so they can move out," said Ms Chua, who herself had undergone a sex change operation and had to drop out of school because of discrimination.

The T Project's new five-member committee comprises Ms Chua, Reverent Miak Siew, executive pastor of Free Community Church, medical social worker Ho Lai Peng, sex worker advocacy group Project X's director Vanessa Ho and activist Bryan Choong .

Ms Chua said the committee will help the shelter as it caters to the growing needs of Singapore's transgender population.

"Most of my residents are seniors. And demand for (places in) the shelter will increase as the community ages," she said.

"The young ones are in charge, they can find jobs - even if it is sex work - but they will meet more challenges later on, especially if they don't have an education."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Needy transgenders have a roof over their heads again'. Print Edition | Subscribe