Black trans disabled Chicagoan on long quest for affordable housing
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

Garnet Williams. Photo by Ethan Jollie Photography

When Garnet Williams was set to enter their final year at Columbia College in 2014, they began to experience pain in their lower back. Because of this pain, Williams' life has changed dramatically these past six years—including the need for immediate affordable housing that has, according to them, proved difficult to obtain.

"I did not think anything of it," said Williams of their lower back pain. "I had been told my whole life that fat bodies are supposed to come with a lot of pain. I thought it was normal to constantly hurt. I noticed little things at first."

Williams told this publication that they depended on grocery carts to complete their shopping, and elevators at school, as well as leaning against walls to support their weight, so their lower back pain would subside. They added that eventually they began collapsing on the ground in public places because the pain was too much to bear. This led to Williams buying a rollator walker on Craigslist for $20 so they could be mobile again.

"I had to take public transit to Morton Grove, Illinois, in order to get one wide enough for my body," said Williams. "I named it The Pussy Wagon. I also have invisible disabilities—ADHD, ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and PTSD—that make it hard for me to socialize and connect with others how I would like. Now I had a disability that meant a majority of places where other queers go to socialize are not accessible to me. I became very isolated, depressed and terribly lonely. I gained a lot more weight really quickly because of immobility which paved the way for so many to fat shame my disability. I really hit rock bottom after that."

Williams—who grew up in Canton, Ohio—came to Chicago to study the recording industry at Columbia College Chicago in hopes of being a singer/songwriter and performance artist. While in their senior year of college, they were living with their now ex-roommate in what they describe as an abusive relationship.

A friend came and moved Williams and their cat out of that apartment in the middle of the night. They slept on that friend's couch for a couple of months while they looked for work and a place to live which proved to be vexing for them. Finding an apartment was hard due to their lack of funds.

"Everything is wildly expensive in Chicago," said Williams.

That is when Williams' grandmother stepped in and helped pay for their safe and accessible studio apartment.

"I will always cherish her kindness," said Williams. "She passed away unexpectedly this past June. I can no longer afford to live in my current apartment without her help. As of right now, I have no idea where I am going to go once my lease is up on Oct. 1. The worst case scenario is I will have to move back in with my mother in Canton. Her house does not have a bathroom or bedroom on the first floor which will be awful for me.

"This is why I need affordable, ADA-accessible housing here in Chicago. I want to continue to live here because I have recently started doing drag performing beginning with the drag competition show Mom Jeans at Berlin Nightclub on Sept. 3, 2019. Drag allows me to express myself without limitations. To be loved, appreciated and worshipped on stage when I previously thought that part of my life was over is an indescribable feeling. My career was beginning to take off prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and now that source of income, and my income from working at the front desk of the Old Town School of Folk Music, has dried up."

Williams said it is even more difficult to obtain affordable, ADA-accessible housing in Chicago during this moment. They provided this publication with a screenshot from the Chicago Housing Authority ( CHA ) replying to their public housing application that said there is a 25-year wait-list for the housing they require.

Additionally, Williams reached out to Access Living's Informational and Referral Housing Coordinator Natasha Flowers via email and she sent them the below response on Aug. 24.

"This email is in response to your request seeking affordable accessible emergency housing. Unfortunately, Access Living does not offer or have resources for emergency housing because emergency housing is only accessible through The City of Chicago and specific non for profits that work to address homelessness. I have attached information for SRO units with the YMCA as well as a link to the Single Room Housing Association, they may be able to assist with housing options for you so my recommendation would be to reach out to them and see what assistance they can provide."

Upon researching the YMCA housing options, Williams learned they were only available to men. Williams is looking into the Single Room Housing Association options and said they also contacted Chicago House, Heartland Alliance. Mercy House and tried every apartment listing site and posted on social media about their situation to no avail.

"I have devoted hours every day this entire summer searching for an accessible apartment," said Williams. "I have exhausted every resource I have come across. There are far more disabled people in this city than there is affordable, accessible housing available. I am confused why our city government has allocated money to build a cop academy that we do not need instead of using that money for subsidized housing for the most vulnerable Chicagoans.

"Chicago is saying, 'You are so poor and disabled that you do not deserve to live here.' Black trans disabled people like myself face so many barriers in our everyday lives including affordable housing availability and this is not okay. The thought of being forced out of this city because I have nowhere to live is devastating. It feels like I am being set up to once again grieve the kind of life I could have if only I were not disabled."

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