Jaz relaxes at home in her new apartment.
A little more than a month ago, Jazmin did the unimaginable — she moved into her own apartment.
The 22-year-old had been homeless in St. Louis for nearly three years. The Riverfront Times profiled her
in a cover story in November 2018. At the time, she told us she did not believe she would survive another winter on the streets.
There was plenty of cause for concern. She spent frighteningly cold nights huddled under donated blankets on downtown sidewalks, steam grates or bus shelter benches. Her days were an exhausting cycle of panhandling, chaotic encounters with an abusive ex-boyfriend and hunting down enough K2 to tolerate another few hours.
She had been beaten, jailed, harassed and propositioned during her time in St. Louis. And she did not see much hope for the future.
"The way things are going, I think I'm finna to wind up dead," she told us back then.
But that's not what happened. A social worker employed by the city contacted Jaz's attorneys at ArchCity Defenders after reading about her. During the next seven months, a team of organizations, including Gateway 180, St. Patrick Center and Places for People worked to help her.
Z Gorley of ArchCity Defenders says there was an enormous amount of red tape the groups had work through, including tracking down a birth certificate from Jaz's native Wisconsin and securing a Missouri ID just to get started.
"It took so many people, a team of people, including Jaz, to get to this point," Gorley says, noting that many people who are homeless don't have the same support.
Jaz stayed for a time in a Gateway 180 women's shelter, and then she moved into her a one-bedroom rental in south city. Another nonprofit, Home Sweet Home STL, helped her furnish it. She has a couch, kitchen set and a mattress. On a recent morning, the wall-unit air conditioner is running full-blast while Jaz relaxes in a recliner.
"I'm able to take showers," she says, ticking off some of the ways life has changed. "I'm able to get sleep. I can come and go when I want to."
She is wearing one of her wigs, giving her long, shiny black hair. She has on a bright pink top, and she picks at her nails as she talks about her plans. There was a time when everything she owned fit into a backpack, but now she has a growing collection of clothes piling up in her bedroom.
"I'm going to start designing my own jeans and doing nails, hair and makeup," she says.
Her apartment is not fancy. She complains about a wide gap under the front door, and a clacking box fan that sounds like it could rattle apart at any moment. But moving here has allowed her to redirect her focus from the minute-to-minute demands of panhandling to a broader world.
Jaz, shown in 2018, battled the dangers of homelessness in St. Louis.
She has become interested in activism, particularly in regard to the perils faced by transgender women. A couple of weeks ago, she joined the Trans & Gender-Free Pride March
in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. She was also a featured speaker, describing her experiences on the streets, on a panel at a recent ACLU-sponsored event.
When she was homeless, she was often alone and fearful of men, who might proposition or attack her or both. She knew of only one other homeless transgender woman, and then only briefly, because that woman found an apartment long before Jaz was able to move off the streets.
Now, Jaz goes to a weekly meeting at the Metro Trans Umbrella Group. She says she is making friends there.
"I like it," she says. "I like it a lot. They're very respectful and a lot of fun."
Moving into the apartment has not solved everything. She says she is still hooked on K2, but having a stable place to stay has helped her use less often, and she is progressively weening herself off entirely. She says she has more confidence now. In less than a year, her whole life is different.
"I can walk in and walk out," she says of her new home. "I have some place to go."
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