In direct messages with BuzzFeed News Sunday, Snow, who is transgender, said she has been homeless on and off for five years due to depression, anxiety, and a debilitating back injury that she said makes keeping a job difficult.
She tweeted Saturday to share her hurt and frustrated over how women, and trans women in particular, were being treated at the Salvation Army Female Emergency Shelter in Portland, where she’s been staying for the past four months.
Out of the hundred or so women currently at the shelter, Snow estimated that only a handful are transgender. She said they are often picked on by other women and by the staff.
“I’ve also seen cis women in here literally sit at a round table and conspire how to have trans women they don’t like thrown out of this place,” she wrote, adding that she was barred from the shelter for 60 days for allegedly asking another woman a question out of turn, a harsher punishment than normally applied.
Brandi Beckett, who recently left the shelter after staying several months, confirmed Snow’s account, saying that she too had witnessed hostility towards trans women.
“Three-quarters of my friends at that shelter are trans and I saw how they were treated,” Beckett told BuzzFeed News. “I heard a staff call one trans women ‘Big Frida.’ There was just a lot of emotional abuse.”
Alarmed by the allegations, Salvation Army quickly set up a meeting for her with the shelter’s program director, Chelsea Bender, and Oregon community relations officer, Lt. Jared Arnold.
“It was the first time someone’s ever listened to me,” Snow told BuzzFeed News afterwards.
Bender told BuzzFeed News that she was shocked by how Snow voiced her concerns, which she said “were out of the blue,” and by the fervid social media response. But Bender conceded that she understood some of Snow’s frustrations.
Scrambling to serve a growing homeless population in Portland, Salvation Army moved the women’s shelter into a new building in 2013. The shelter has housed 900 women so far this year, and beds are at capacity every night, according to Bender.
“I don’t think that they really thought about the use of the building,” Bender said. “The mold, bathrooms, poor ventilation, that’s all 100% accurate.”
On its website, the shelter promises snacks and programs, but Bender says the county forbade the staff from using the kitchen due to improper licensing, which they are working to remedy. No licensed kitchen means no distributing food.
Women staying there take about 1,000 showers per month, Bender estimated, and the taxed staff struggles to keep up.
As for Snow and Beckett’s allegations of verbal abuse and mistreatment, Bender said the shelter has been introducing new deescalation methods and communication techniques to teach “staff to work with the women and not retaliate or lash back at them.”
“We’re trying to serve the most vulnerable populations and it can be risky territory,” Bender said, noting that the shelter has doubled its staff since she took over in 2015. “We have a handful of staff who can be short and rigid and there was a history of escalation but we’re changing that.”
While she says Bender “admitted things needed to change asap,” Snow remains skeptical that the shelter, which she says has a well-earned, sordid reputation within Portland’s homeless community, actually will. After years skipping around shelters and on the streets, she’s learned not to live with low expectations and “doesn’t have a lot of hope.”
But her cell phone now constantly buzzes and vibrates with people messaging and joining her Twitter conversation — something she still cannot believe she started.
“I have a little hope,” she adds. “But it’s something. It’s more than I had before.”