A Woman's Tweets About Her Experience In A Homeless Shelter Might Lead To Real Change

"We're looked down on. Condescended to. And when one of us attempts to stand up for our dignity we're thrown onto the street with a smile."

Heather Snow has been living in a Salvation Army shelter in Portland, Oregon for the past few months, but she's fed up facilities she describes as crumbling. She made an unlikely request on Twitter that kicked off a spirited online discussion about homelessness in America.

Snow, who is transgender and resides in a shelter specifically dedicated to helping vulnerable women, tells Buzzfeed News she's been sporadically homeless for the past five years on account of depression, anxiety, and a debilitating back injury that makes it difficult for her to hold down a job. 

Her series of tweets, which have since sparked larger conversations about behavior and policies at Salvation Army shelters around the country and homelessness in general, began with one simple request — "Don't donate to the Salvation Army."

Snow went on to explain her reasoning in several dozen tweets, some of which you can read for yourself below:

She also snapped photos of the shelter's moldy bathroom and locked refrigerator.

According to Snow's allegations, women thrown out of the shelter then have a week to reclaim their belongings, after which time it's "sold alongside all your donations at their f—ing thrift stores." She also noted "abuse is commonplace here" and accused the Salvation Army of farming cash "under the guise of helping."

News organizations are still investigating the veracity of her tweets.

Snow also told Buzzfeed that transgender women are especially mistreated, explaining, "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."

"As a trans woman, if I step out of line, my punishment will be much more severe," she added on Twitter. "Trans women are generally 'excluded' (banned) for at least twice as long as cis women are for the same infractions."

Unfortunately, the Salvation Army (which is a Protestant Christian church-based organization) does have a history of anti-LGBT discrimination that spans decades. According to The Huffington Post, the Salvation Army of the United States tried to make a deal with the Bush administration in 2001, ensuring religious charities receiving federal funding would be exempt from any local ordinances banning anti-gay discrimination, but the deal fell through

The publication also notes that the Salvation Army of Burlington, Vermont allegedly fired case worker Danielle Morantez in 2012 immediately after learning she was bisexual

When Snow's tweets began to gain some traction, she started to hear from other people who said they had seen and experienced similar abuse at Salvation Army shelters around the country.

However, when one Twitter user asked what shelter people might donate to instead, Snow responded, "I don't know of any locally that are better than this place to be perfectly honest," so clearly mistreatment in shelters isn't confined to the Salvation Army alone.

Instead, Snow advocates for donating to local charities and organizations "related to initiatives to provide real housing." One she likes is Portland's Free Hot Soup, which enlists volunteers to bring homeless people hot meals every day. Similar charities include Los Angeles's Midnight Mission and the True Colors Fund, which are both very well-regarded.

The silver lining in Snow's whole ordeal is that the Salvation Army has heard her concerns and is making a concerted effort to address them.

In a subsequent meeting, several staff members told Snow they understood her grievances and were preparing for "staff changes." They also removed the lock from the refrigerator and shut down the bathroom.

It couldn't have been easy for Snow to reveal so much about herself and her difficult time in the Salvation Army shelter, but we're glad to hear her online conversation seems to be leading to change!

Cover photo via Shutterstock / Leonard Zhukovsky.


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