by Abby Bova
Robin Adelmann knew her whole life that she felt uncomfortable in her male body. It was not until she turned 30 that she decided that she could no longer live happily as a male and began her transition to become a transgender women. At the time that she decided to change her parents kicked her out of the house and she found herself homeless bouncing around between friends couches. When she ran out of couches to sleep on, she found herself at the doors of 2100, the local men’s shelter.
When Robin arrived at 2100 she was living her life one hundred percent as a women. However, no one informed her that she could be living at Norma Herr, the local women’s shelter. When reflecting on her time at 2100 she states that, compared to Norma Herr, the staff itself was very organized, the food was good for a shelter, and the building was relatively clean. Robin specifically noted how much of a positive difference the meals made for the men’s shelter, because they were well organized with shifts of men coming up to get food rather than a herd. She also noted that the men were able to receive second helpings of the food, unlike at Norma Herr where they frequently ran out of the main meal. Not to mention that the men would actually enjoy a second helping of the food because it was edible, unlike the food at Norma Herr.
In spite of the organized staff and edible food, Robin reflected on the fear that came from living at 2100. Being the only transgender woman in a shelter of men, many with criminal backgrounds, Robin lived in the constant fear of being raped or jumped. Thankfully she was never raped. The majority of her torture came from the stares and rude comments from both the workers and the men staying at the shelter. However, the threat of rape was very real. After she had left 2100, Robin discovered that some of the men had been planning to gang rape her in order to show her what it really felt like to be a women.
The location of 2100, in an industrial district of Cleveland, made it all the more dangerous. While one cannot deny the fact that the women at Norma Herr do drugs, Robin declares it was nothing compared to the men at 2100. Robin reminisced on the times she would be walking back to the shelter at the end of the day and several, typically high, men would steal her belongings in order to buy more drugs or simply just to have them. Even after she had left 2100 Robin was attacked by two men from 2100, for no apparent reason other than the fact that she is transgender.
With no help from the case workers at 2100, who clearly had no training in working with transgender individuals based on the disgusted looks they gave Robin when she informed them that she is transgender, Robin finally discovered that she was allowed to move into Norma Herr. Although she felt more at home in the women’s shelter, and the threat level was much lower, the conditions were far worse.
As mentioned before, the meals were nearly inedible and there was no organization at meal time leading to a flood of women rushing to get in line and cutting in front of each other in order to make sure they actually got the meal. This often led to another major problem at the shelter, fights. Although the fights rarely became physical like the men’s, the workers simply didn’t care. Even the manager would stand by and just watch the women fight rather than intervene. Despite the inedible food, women are not allowed to bring their own food into the shelter. When Robin first arrived at Norma Herr they allowed women with specific dietary needs, such as diabetes, bring their own food into the shelter with a doctor’s note. Now a days they will take the letter and say they have to review it, the majority of the time you will never hear about the note again or it will be denied. This policy also applies to women who need to rest in bed for the day due to illness or injury, often leading to women with sprained ankles or sicknesses being forced to leave the building for the day.
In addition to poor meals, the bathrooms were disgusting and falling apart and a majority of the women slept on mats on the floor. The case workers also offered very little assistance and it wasn’t until Robin found herself a caseworker at Frontline Services that she was able to get involved with Eden in order to find housing. Although the staff could be harsh towards the women and did very little to help the women, Robin had a relatively good experience with them on a personal level. In addition, she was quickly welcomed by the majority of the women at the shelter, and managed to avoid getting in fights with the women who were not as accepting of her.
When asked which shelter she would prefer to live in Robin responded, Norma Herr, if both shelters were gender neutral she would choose 2100. When asked what she thinks could be done to improve the shelters Robin stated that they need to revamp the staff and figure out a plan to better handle the mentally ill and those coming out of the criminal justice system in addition to proper placement of transgender individuals. She said they need case workers who actually get on your case about filling out applications and looking for jobs, because when you are in the shelter you can become depressed and unmotivated. Specifically for Norma Herr, Robin believes they should have organized meal time like they do at 2100 and an organized way of storing your belongings, because in most cases what you bring with you to Norma Herr is all you own.
Robin is currently happily working and living in an apartment, with the hopes of never entering a shelter again.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016 Issue 23.2 Cleveland Ohio