Princess Janae Place Serves Housing Needs of Trans New Yorkers

Jevon Martin, who founded Princess Janae Place in 2015.
Courtesy of Jevon Martin

On the eve of the International Transgender Day of Visibility, observed today, March 31, a five-year-old Bronx-based LGBTQ social service referral organization that focuses on the housing needs of trans New Yorkers, got a big boost from GLAAD.

Jevon Martin, who founded Princess Janae Place in 2015, took over the Instagram account for GLAAD on March 30. Martin used the opportunity to preview the following day’s celebration of transgender visibility, talk about the history of the day, highlight the critical housing, employment, and social service needs of the trans community, and shine a light on Princess Janae Place’s work — which has included the placement of 90 transgender New Yorkers into permanent housing.

Princess Janae Place, named for a member of the New York ballroom scene who had a 25-year career as a nightclub entertainer before her death from cancer in 2013, is a small shop with big ambitions. Its staff — three full-time and two part-time — include two housing specialists who work to connect housing-insecure trans clients and other members of the LGBTQ community with temporary, transitional, and permanent housing.

One of those specialists works out of the group’s office on Wallace Avenue near Boston Road in the Allerton section of the Bronx. The other splits their time between the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center’s locations in the South Bronx and in Chelsea.

When Martin spoke to Gay City News, however, he himself was doing the housing placement legwork because the coronavirus crisis had temporarily closed Princess Janae Place’s doors.

The previous Friday evening, he had received a call about a 21-year-old trans youth who was sheltering in a stairwell in a Bronx apartment house. The young man had lived in several LGBTQ-friendly homeless youth housing facilities, but because he is still in the midst of his transitioning, he said, he often felt uncomfortable around his housemates. Martin managed to get him a motel room through the weekend, but that venue had a three-night maximum stay, and the scramble was on Monday to get him certified by the city Department of Homeless Services — which handles adults but not minors who are without housing. The DHS certification, in turn, would give the youth a chance to move into Marsha’s House, a shelter for LGBTQ young adults, up to the age of 30, located in the South Bronx.

“Marsha’s House is a good place for gender non-conforming and non-binary folks,” Martin explained.

Though Princess Janae Place’s primary focus is on transgender clients — who make up nearly 60 percent of the total — it also serves a significant number of gay, lesbian, and bisexual cisgender clients, and four percent of all clients identify as non-binary. More than half of its clients hail from the Bronx, but fully a quarter are from Brooklyn. Nearly 80 percent of clients are black, with Asian Americans making up the second largest group, at roughly one out of eight.

Housing insecurity is the issue that Princess Janae Place is most focused on, but in the course of their work staff there encounter a full range of social service needs their clients arrive with. The issues that Martin said most often holds people back are mental health challenges, and his organization has built up a group of agency referrals he is confident can competently and sensitively serve transgender clients.

HIV-positive clients also visit the agency, though Martin noted they are often easy to help with housing since most of them are also clients of the city’s HIV/ AIDS Services Administration, which provides support to poz folks with financial need.

“It’s those who are HIV-negative that we have the biggest problem with,” he explained, since there is no easy slot to place them in to get them on the path to permanent housing.

Martin and Princess Janae Place are strong advocates of the city redoubling its efforts to combat homelessness by creating more housing that is truly affordable to New Yorkers who are the economically least advantaged, and the agency is working on plans for the third annual Walk Away Homelessness in New York trek in August to raise money and awareness to combat what has been a mushrooming need in recent years.

But Martin said that Princess Janae Place is not content to wait on government or to rely on other housing providers to serve their clients. His long-term goal is to partner with a developer to build a facility to provide studio and one-bedroom apartments and a drop-in center for clients as well as office space for the agency.

For now, Martin works hard to identify sources of funding to grow his agency’s reach. Over the past three years, the city’s health department, through its Public Health Solutions initiative, has given increasing annual grants for capacity-building — as opposed to direct services — to Princess Janae Place. In the current year, that funding amounts to $250,000.

The agency was also recently awarded a two-year grant totaling $200,00 from pharmaceutical giant Gilead to support its housing placement work.

Much of the rest of the agency’s funding comes from individual donations as well as its annual Princess Pageant. Martin is a veteran of the city’s ballroom scene, having been the father to a series of houses, including most recently the House of Legacy. He is also the current holder of the Mr. Trans New York USA title.

Asked about the significance of overseeing the GLAAD Instagram account for a day and of the International Transgender Day of Visibility itself, Martin said, “Visibility is what will take us to where we need to be.”

At the same time, he emphasized that public visibility is not always a safe option for transgender folks everywhere.

“Your visibility is for your safety,” Martin said, adding there are many ways to support Princess Janae Place behind the scenes. “Volunteering need not be public. You don’t need to be on the front lines. You can push out social media and email. You can answer phones for us.”