In addition, "nearly 30% of homeless transgender individuals report being turned away from a shelter due to their transgender status and 22% report experiencing sexual assault perpetrated by staff or other shelter residents," HUD reported, citing the 2011 survey again.
However, the bishops' conference and other groups stated, "it is not clear how the proposed regulations would remedy the high reported incidence of assault on persons claiming to be transgender and, in fact, the regulations may exacerbate the problem."
They added that "this is a client population with serious vulnerabilities," citing statistics showing a high rate of mental health and substance abuse disorders among homeless populations.
Catholic Charities USA brought this concern up in its comments as well, noting that shelter staff must be able to handle requests for shared housing together on a "case-by-case" basis given the vulnerabilities of the inhabitants, like women who have been abused.
"Will staff be placed in an untenable position of pressure to accede to a request or demand, which is contrary to both their situational awareness and the reasonable concerns of other (often traumatized) shelter clients?" they asked.
Privacy of men and women at shelters is not an unreasonable concern, counsels for the bishops' conference added.
"Just as a patient may insist that a health care provider be of the same sex when this protects the patient's bodily privacy, a client's biological sex is relevant to decisions about single-sex housing and shared sleeping and bathing areas," they stated.
"Even prison inmates retain legitimate interests in such privacy."
The proposed rule could also infringe on the religious freedom of both homeless persons and the faith-based groups that shelter them, they explained.
For instance, a person seeking shelter might conscientiously oppose having "to share sleeping and bathing areas with adults to whom they are neither married nor related and who are biologically of the opposite sex."
Also, forcing faith-based housing providers to treat biological men as women, or biological women as men, "could substantially burden their religiously-motivated mission to provide housing to those who need it," the comments continued.
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Catholic Charities USA helps provide shelter for tens of thousands across the country. In 2014, the group reported, "member agencies provided transitional housing and shelter services to over 147,000 vulnerable individuals, including over 13,000 children. These member agencies operated 238 shelters with over 10,000 available beds."
Some shelters have already had to adjust to local laws on this issue. For instance, Washington, D.C. enacted a law in 2014 requiring housing exclusively for transgendered persons.
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.