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Joaquin Remora moved to California with $1,000 in his pocket, no job and two back-to-back evictions under his belt. The move was a lifesaver.

“I was like, ‘I’m either going to come out as transgender, or kill myself,’” he said. “San Francisco was the only place that I could think of where I thought it wasn’t going to be a problem for me to be trans.”

For the first few months after he arrived, Remora lived in his car. “I didn’t access housing services because it was too overwhelming,” he said. “I was traumatized, I didn’t feel like I was deserving of them.”

On March 9, the city’s first navigation center to specifically serve transgender and gender-nonconforming people opens in SoMa. Operated by St. James Infirmary, a nonprofit that serves sex workers, the 65-bed shelter (81 after COVID-19 restrictions end) will provide case management, health care, job opportunities and substance use treatment for people experiencing homelessness.

“We know that queer people in general, and trans and gender nonconforming people specifically, are overrepresented in the homelessness system,” Shireen McSpadden, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, told the Public Press after meeting with staff and touring the site. “I think that this is the right response.”

It will fill a gap in homeless services that has excluded a highly vulnerable population. Transgender people are 17 times more likely to experience homelessness than the average person, and 70% of those who have stayed in shelters report having experienced harassment, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality. As a result, unhoused transgender people are often reluctant to engage in traditional services.

San Francisco is no exception. A lack of culturally competent shelter staff is something Remora, who eventually got housing and a job with a homelessness nonprofit, witnessed firsthand.

Early in the pandemic, he worked at two navigation centers in the city, where he says he saw staff struggle to address the intersections of violence, sex work and gender identity. The idea for a navigation center that serves only transgender and gender non-conforming people emerged late one night, while Remora worked an overnight shift at the Embarcadero Navigation Center with one of the few gender-nonconforming staff members, Britt Creech.

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“We just started talking about this dream we had,” Creech said. “This is the most marginalized community that we see. They’ve been let down over and over and over again.”

Several months later, an opportunity to open the center appeared. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing reached out to the Transgender Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project, a prison abolition organization, to see if they’d be interested in taking over the Bryant Street Navigation Center, which had been converted to an isolation ward during the pandemic. The organization suggested the city reach out to St. James Infirmary, where Remora was working as the inaugural director of a new city initiative called Our Trans Home SF. All of a sudden, he had a path forward to creating a new type of homeless shelter for transgender people.

Creech came on board as managing site director. Together, they decided to christen the new space the Taimon Booton Navigation Center, in honor of an unhoused gender-nonconforming youth who made a significant impact on them both before dying in 2020.

The navigation center, located under Interstate 80, is one of the few not built in a large white tent. Instead, it has orange and blue walls and a large tree emerging from its patio. Its planters, currently containing struggling greenery, will soon be filled with succulents; Creech has a green thumb. There are plans for murals honoring local trans activists and fairy lights to illuminate the outdoor areas after dark. Gendered signs outside the bathrooms and showers will be removed.

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St. James Infirmary’s commitment to hiring employees with lived experience of its clients has continued at the navigation center. Remora recruited staff using solely Instagram posts and word of mouth, hoping to build a racially diverse team of transgender and gender-nonconforming staff. The response was enormous.

“I interviewed 60-something people in five weeks,” he said. “The numbers showed when we started the interview process — and everyone else was having a hard time hiring — how many trans people are not applying to regular jobs, because they know that it’s not sustainable for them or healthy. This is a really big opportunity to work somewhere you can be yourself.”

The commitment to a peer-based model of services is something McSpadden applauds. “I think this can be transformational for people,” she said. “It’s healing. It’s safe. It builds community. That, to me, is really exciting.”

That healing is central to St. James’ mission for the space. Stephany Ashley, St. James’ former executive director, consulted on the opening of the center. “Trans people, and especially trans feminine people, experience so much violence on a daily basis,” she said. “It’s one thing to have a home to go to at the end of the day, and a door to close, that’s your safe space. But for people who are unhoused, there’s never that moment where you’re not subjected to that violence. This place is really going to be a refuge. That’s what’s been missing from the system of care.”

With just a few days to go until the navigation center opens, St. James’ staffers are busy alerting nonprofits, frontline workers and case managers — who already have relationships with transgender people experiencing homelessness — about its presence. A guest list is starting to form, though the plan is to bring in residents slowly.

“People are traumatized, and if they don’t have a space where they can start the day with some peace, then they’re always going to stay in trauma,” Creech said. “We have people in place to help guide them and open those doors. So maybe we start with a little bit of care, get people to open up, then the world’s their oyster.”

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Community Support Line for Sex Workers Seeks Volunteers

SWOP Behind Bars is seeking volunteers for their Community Support Line especially for people located on the West-coast.

If you are a sex worker in need of support check out the link for online chat functions or

call 1-877-776-2004 ext. 1

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artwork by Amanda Priebe

DEAR SEX WORKERS: WE LOVE YOU

Online Workshop Series Continues

Mindfulness and Meditation with Vadan is every Monday at 12noon

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What We Believe

There are many factors which affect the working conditions and experiences for all Sex Workers including the political and economic climate, poverty and homelessness, stigmatization, violence, as well as the overwhelming intricacies of the legal, public and social systems. It is the philosophy of St. James Infirmary to build upon existing skills and strengths in order to allow individuals to determine their own goals.

  • We are fundamentally against the criminalizing of Sex Workers—regardless of our different perspectives on decriminalization or legalization, the collective view of the St. James Infirmary is that incarceration of our community further marginalizes and disenfranchised us, which creates barriers to capacity building, and exacerbates a public health crisis.
  • We believe in revolution through healthcare. We challenge the conventional healthcare model that divides patients and providers and fosters unhealthy power dynamics. Our peer-based model creates a safe, trusted, and honest environment in which to provide services, and empowers our community to define our own well-being.
  • We are founded on the principles of harm reduction—St. James Infirmary supports Sex Workers being treated with dignity and respect, in every aspect of their lives

Our Impact

  • We increase access to primary healthcare and social services for Sex Workers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • We formalize communication and collaboration among individuals and agencies who serve Sex Workers to better serve our community.
  • We promote peer-based public health initiatives on behalf of Sex Workers, which may be used as a model for improving occupational health and safety standards and developing comprehensive medical and social services for Sex Workers around the world.
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From Our Blog

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New Jobs at the St. James Infirmary!

By sjidirector | April 17, 2015

JOB POSTING HIV SERVICES MANAGER 32-40 hours per week at $23 per hour The St. James Infirmary is hiring an HIV Services Manager to oversee our HIV Prevention Programming. St. James currently has a contract with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to provide HIV testing, counseling and linkage services to high risk HIV negative […]

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We’ve got your New Years Resolutions covered!

By sjidirector | January 6, 2015

New Services for your Mind, Body & Heart Begin in January of 2015!  

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Holiday Party- December 18th!

By sjidirector | December 12, 2014

The St. James Infirmary’s Annual Holiday Party will be Thursday, December 18th from 6-8pm! We invite staff, volunteers & community members of the SJI, as well as their friends and family, to join us for dinner and holiday cheer in the community room at 1372 Mission Street. After the Holiday Party, we will be having a […]

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New Services at the SJI!

By sjidirector | November 13, 2014

It is with great excitement that we announce that the SJI has been awarded two new contracts from Community Behavioral Health Services to provide comprehensive mental health and substance use services to our community. Beginning this week, current and former sex workers may come to St. James to receive individual therapy and case management with […]

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St. James Infirmary Voted Best Nonprofit Organization in the Bay!

By sjidirector | October 20, 2014

Thank you to the readers of the San Francisco Bay Guardian for Voting us Best Nonprofit in the Bay! We are honored and humbled by the love and support. Here’s a throwback to 2003, when we won “Best Place to Find Sex Worker Community”

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XV Anniversary Party Follow-Up & 15 Year Report Available NOW

By sjidirector | June 9, 2014

The St. James Infirmary 15 Year Report is now available on line.  You can download the pdf version below. xv-report-spreads-final xv-report-pages-final XV was a BLAST!! We raised over $27,000!! Thank you to all our fabulous donors, volunteers, performers and supporters who came out to make our 15 Year Anniversary a HUGE success!! Thanks to Dave, […]

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XV DIRTY RAVE & Anniversary Event, June 5th, 2014 9pm @Temple Lounge

By sjidirector | May 5, 2014

       St. James Infirmary Presents:  XV Dirty Dance Party Fundraiser! Celebrating our 15 Year Anniversary Thursday, June 5th, 2014 9pm-3am Temple Nightclub 540 Howard St., San Francisco St. James Infirmary is the first occupational safety and health clinic for sex workers in the United States – providing free, confidential, nonjudgmental medical and social services for […]

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The Latest Edition of the STRIDE Zine is Hot Off the Press/PDF!

By sjidirector | March 18, 2014

Created by staff and participants of the SJI’s STRIDE Program, the 2014 STRIDE Zine provides basic information about our hormone clinic, safer injection tips, legal resources, new surgery guidelines for California, and recommended reading for the savvy trans sex worker! Download your copy here!

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SJI is turning 15! Be a part of the party!

By sjidirector | February 26, 2014

On Thursday, June 5th from 9pm – 3am SJI will be raising cash and partying like hookers at Temple Night Club. Dance all night on the main floor upstairs, get kinky in the dungeon, and get hot & bothered in the VIP room with lap dancing, table dancing and other temptations. Performers needed (all genders please!) […]

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Condom Kit-Making Party on February 4th at 7pm!

By sjidirector | January 29, 2014

Free Movie! Free Pizza! Free Condoms! Help us spread the love to sex workers in time for Valentine’s Day! St. James Infirmary gives out safer sex supplies to over 2,000 sex workers in the Bay Area every year, but we need YOUR help to make it happen! Come get a tour of the clinic, hear […]

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