I learned of a project called “Morris Home” and approached it with more than a little skeptisim after so many times hearing how impotant we are as a community to empower ourselves. After all who could argue with the stark realities? There was a reason so many of our people find themselves enslaved by dependency on prostitution and drugs. Obviously we were helpless to make take concrete steps as a community to remidey this, untill now.
I stumbled upon this facebook status by Susan Collins that was so passionate that I became intoxicated with the prospect. Could it be true we are now taking care of our own, albiet for now, just in one city?
This opening is special becuse it is the only inpatient facility of its kind in the USA to operated by the transgender people to specifically focus on transgender people.
The Morris Home looks at the whole person taking into account all of the variables and needs associated with transition. Morris Home’s substance addiction program will focus on the most common factor associated with transgender murders.
We have the privliage of hearing from Susan Collins a transgender woman and employee at the Morris Home.
Kelli (Q): Susan, how did your road less traveled come to intersect with Morris Home?
Susan (A): “First off, I want to thank you Kelli for this opportunity to explain what Morris Home is, and why it has such great meaning to me and the entire trans community. And I want to give you great honor for the invaluable work you have done as an activist and advocate for trans rights for so many years. Thank you for the difference you have made in the world.”
“My first contact with the trans community was at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference in 2004 when I formally began my own transition. The conference was very radical and street based then, and I learned from the organizers and attendees the needs of the trans community at the street level, the homeless and those who lived on the margins of society, forced there due to transphobia. I became involved with the conference and sat on their executive committee till 2007. I still have a great fondness for that conference, for it helped me restore my dignity, supported me in finding direction, helped me find family.”
At that time I also became involved in two committees, the Mayor’s Committee on Gender Minority and Homeless Shelters and The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault and Abuse. I learned from these experiences the great discrimination experiences by those who are trans and gender variant , even in a city that has inclusive civil rights laws, when trying to access services in the city, and the hesitancy of the trans community to access services, turning rather to each other and street services for their needs.”
“From 2005 to 2008 I coordinated the Trans Health Program at Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia. The thousands of stories I heard during my time there of the rejection and exclusion faced by the trans community from health and social service providers was appalling, and the struggle to develop affirming providers in the area was slow and arduous.”
“From 2008 till 2011 I did extended lecturing at conferences and colleges and medical schools on cultural competency and trans specific issues. I found doing these lectures an extreme lack of awareness and education in trans issues to be found in the college and professional levels.”
“It was at this point that I first heard of Morris Home, then not even having a name, but an idea that was growing of providing affirming formal professional care for the trans and gender variant community. I was invited and attended several of the focus groups during the time period this idea, this dream, was growing into the concept of what is now Morris Home.”
“During this period I also produced for 2 ½ years The Transcommunity News Show for TransFM, an Internet Broadcasting Network created and produced by Ethan St. Pierre. In this weekly show I shared events happening in the trans community world wide, and learned about the struggles everywhere to find dignified care for those who are trans and gender variant. It impressed on me, once again, the desperate need for affirming healthcare services for our community.”
“I was living in Oregon last Spring when I was contacted by Resources for Human Development – RHD – and asked to interview for a position at Morris Home, as it was now named. I had my first interview on a conference call from Portland Oregon. They contacted me and said that if I came back to Philadelphia they would be interested in meeting with me again about Morris Home. So, after long hours of discussion with a close friend there, I decided that this was a dream that was coming to fruition that I wanted to be a part of. So I moved back to Philadelphia, and eventually was hired as Therapist at Morris Home in December of 2012.”
“After months of training a staff – a most qualified staff, I might add. Comprised of trans and gender variant and “true” family, we have created a team that I am confident will provide the best care for those who come here for recovery – and setting up an entirely brand new program … as of last week we are officially open and the home is filling up!”
Q: How did the Home come to be named “Morris” and can you give a overview of the services?
A: “Morris Home, the dream child of Sade Ali, Deputy Commissioner for The Behavioral Health Services in Philadelphia, was named in honor of Nizah Morris
, a trans woman of African- American heritage who was murdered in Philadelphia in 2002, and whose death has never been investigated. Morris Home is a long term residential recovery treatment program designed specifically for those who self- identify as transgender or gender variant. We are operating under the Transformational Guidelines developed by the Department of Behavioral Health Services providing a holistic, humanistic approach to treatment to instill hope, empowerment, motivation, and to support those who come to Morris Home in developing the skills and supports essential for a positive recovery journey.”
“I want to emphasize that Morris Home is a “home”, not a house, a center. We encourage a culture where all persons can find a “temporary home”, a safe and supportive environment where their transgender/gender variant status is honored and affirmed, and they can finally focus on their individual recovery and healing.”
“When we assess a person for the intensive long term services that Morris Home provides the areas we assess are a serious history and pattern of substance abuse, any co-occurring challenges that may be present in a person’s life, severity of environmental distress, and those who identify transgender or gender variant. Those who are not in need of the intensity of services we offer our director and staff and Resource Coordinator work as a team to access appropriate care for the person.”
“The Persons who come to Morris Home for recovery are funded for up to 1-2 year stay, giving us the time to support the persons here to work through short term and long term recovery plans, to achieve long term objectives of abstinence of substances, emotional and mental balance, a positive support system in the community, a stable source of income and permanent housing that is affirming of their transgender/gender variant status. We support and advocate for the persons at Morris Home in their work to maintain recovery, and not just “stay clean”. Right from the day a person enters Morris Home the person begins to identifying “after here” plans and visions. Morris Home makes sure all pieces of a person’s sustained recovery are in place when the person leaves here.”
Q: Many Trans people have had difficulty finding therapists and medical doctors willing and trained to address transitional needs and once they do, it become apparent with time the care givers main concern is the continuance of treatment and revenue and not prescribing HRT and a successful transition. This is a pervasive problem enabled by the APA’s Gate keepers methodology. How will Morris Home address these issues?
A: “Morris Home has joined in partnership with The Health Annex, a full service clinic operated by RHD. We will be offering primary care, HRT, mental health and other specialized care through this center. All staff, from front desk to M.A. to N.P to Psychiatrist have been extensively trained in affirming and informed care of those who are transgender. We have a clinical care professional at the Health Annex who will assist us in coordinating all their health care needs. The approach we advocate for, and that will be practiced at The Health Annex, is one of Informed Consent, Harm Reduction and Person Centered care.”
“There are persons who are here at Morris Home who are currently enrolled at The Mazzoni Center and are happy with their care there. We encourage and support their efforts to continue their care there. Mazzoni Center is an excellent center and we assist those here get the care they feel most comfortable with. All treatment we provide at Morris Home is individualized, dignified, and affirming.”
“We have also developed, and continue to expand, a resource guide to assist those at Morris Home seek transitional related services they may need.”
“Concerning legal and preferred names, we use preferred and legal names on all documents. We in the milieu of Morris Home, and when we advocate for the persons here for services, emphasize preferred name and identity. We also support and advocate the goal of legal name change and have resources they can access to gain legal name change and to reflect that in all documents. We assist them in reaching this goal and walk them through the process.”
Kelli: Morris Home will have to have a outpatient program for people in transition in all of these parts of there lives. It almost boggles the mind, but evidently Morris House has a plan!
Q: Tell us about what help a person may expect in finding shelter, hormones and work after inpatient treatment.
A:” One of the guidelines that our program is built around is engagement and access to services after a person has left Morris
Home. When a person leaves Morris Home they will carry all services that they are linked into with them. A main goal of maintaining recovery is a stable environment, so we make sure that they have a stable source of income and permanent housing that is affirming of their trans and gender variant identify when they leave. And our Resource Coordinator follows them for a few months to retain that connection of our support with them.”
“All persons who come to Morris Home for recovery will always have access to our resources after they have left through our Resource Coordinator. We are coordinating a consistent support group/drop-in evening, facilitated by those who live at Morris Home, open to the entire local trans community at a local health center, as a way for those living at Morris Home to make positive community relationships and for those who were at Morris Home to stay connected.”
“We are also coordinating to present workshops on trans issues, involving the persons in recovery at Morris Home, and to volunteer at events for local trans organizations, such as Philly Trans Pride March and Gender Reel. This will support the persons at Morris Home in developing a sense of community among themselves and within the larger community that they will retain after the person’s stay at Morris Home.”
“We believe that the ability for a person to live at Morris home from 1-2 years will enable them to work for housing, develop and act on educational or training goals, maintain recovery, and build a strong, positive, social supports while in a safe, supportive environment.”
As an activist and blogger I have seen time and again how the revolving door of homelessness and addiction desecrates our people. For most people myself included, it takes decades to advance past that ingrained self destructive behaviour. Morris Home has the potential of dramatically shortening that time while enhancing all of our lives.
Once again, I would like to thank you Susan for your work. You are making the crucial difference between life and death for our people.
Please visit Morris Home web site.