Joe Trembly has a unique perspective on homelessness in South Florida.
The 53-year-old landed in Broward County almost 30 years ago from Orlando after being fired from his job. He had lost his car, his apartment and all the safety and security that comes with having a good job, transportation and a roof over your head.
“I found myself stuck,” Trembly, who is gay, said.
Trembly was indeed stuck – and took shelter any way he could. He ended up livingin a Fort Lauderdale dumpster during an almost year-long stretch with no place to go. Trembly said he was eventually able to turn things around because of the kindness of a person who allowed him to take a shower, loaned him a scooter and set him up for a job interview.
“It took someone believing in me when I’d lost all belief in myself,” Trembly said.
The LGBT community has a higher than average number of people who are experiencing homelessness compared to the general population. Not only that, but LGBT youth – who comprise about 40 percent of all homeless young people, but only 7 percent of total youth population – are at a more than double the risk than non-LGBT youth.
Homeless services are limited in Broward and elsewhere, and facilities with gay staff who were once homeless – like Trembly – are virtually non-existent, even in a county like Broward thatis known for its high LGBT population.
Trembly, who has worked at Keystone Halls – a Fort Lauderdale-based transitional housing facility with about 65 beds – since 2013, saw an opportunity to make a difference with those he identifies with and whose experiences he understands.
A first for Broward
Trembly recentlywrote a grant and was awarded $75,000 by the Community Foundation of Broward to fund up to eight beds at Keystone Halls, which over the course of a year will likely assistabout 45 LGBT individuals who are trying to transition out of homelessness.
He said four of the beds have already been filled and estimates a typical length of stay will be about three to four months. Trembly is working with LGBT social service groups like SunServe in Wilton Manors to identify potential clients. He said it’s the first time something like this has been done in Broward.
“The whole idea is to create inclusivity. We had six people come in last month,” Trembly said of all the walks of life that enter Keystone Halls – veterans, gay, straight and everything in-between. “One was from a shelter; one came from a [homeless] encampment and one [was] living in a dumpster.”
The grant was one of five awards totaling $300,000 from the Community Foundation of Broward as part of its Broward Pride Program.
The inspiration for Trembly’s grant was a report that was commissioned by the Broward Foundation.
“Broward Pride: A Report to the Community” was published this summer. It included the thoughts and analyses of more than 50 Broward residents who came together in multiple meetings. The subject was the “state of LGBTQ acceptance and inclusion in the county.”
One of the findings was that LGBT homeless youth are “reluctant to seek help from homeless shelters for fear of rejection and concern for their personal safety.”
Trembly says those concerns translate to LGBT homeless people of any age.
“Oftentimes what we find is that people still don’t want to identify [as LGBT]in order to obtain services, or they don’t feel safe in the shelters, especially for transgender individuals,” Trembly said.
His goal is forKeystone Halls to be known as a safe place for the LGBT community.
Along with providing a safe space, Trembly said it’s important to address the misconceptions many have about homelessness in general.
One of the biggest, he said, is that the homeless are only in their situation because of drug abuse.
“That’s really not the case. Many are people who have had an unfortunate situation that led to them becoming homeless,” Trembly said.
He added that another misconception is that society tends to believe someone is homeless because it’s a choice. “I don’t think anyone chooses to be homeless. Most people want to move out of that situation,” he said.
More information on the Community Foundation of Broward, including a link to the Broward Pride Report, can be found at cfbroward.org.
More information on Keystone Hall, which also serves homeless individuals suffering from chemical dependency, is available by calling 954-763-2300 or going online to KeyStoneHalls.org.