Like many people, E.V. Yost found themself in unchartered territory this spring, as the world shut down with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yost finished law school and studied and sat for the bar remotely.
As Baltimore adapted to life during a pandemic, they saw how people across the city were connecting online and using social and digital tools to create care networks—making sure their neighbors had access to food, medicine, and other necessities.
Amid calls to defund the police, the surge in support for community alternatives to policing and their legal background inspired Yost to create the Queer Crisis Response Unit (QCRU), a trans-led emergency services alternative. QCRU takes a multi-tiered approach to reducing the policing and criminalization of queer and trans people. Often, when a person is in crisis, the police are called. But research shows that police involvement often escalates the situation and leads to worse outcomes for the person in need of support. This is especially true for queer and trans people and particularly queer and trans people of color, for whom police interactions often increase harm.
As a result of anti-TLGBQIA+ housing and employment discrimination, many queer and trans people struggle with access to stable and affordable housing. This means that queer and trans people are more likely to be arrested for “crimes of survival” associated with poverty and housing instability—like loitering, having an open container, or being suspected of engaging in street-based sex work. Yost wants to decrease criminalization of queer and trans people by creating an alternative to the traditional police response.
QCRU will establish a hotline and mobile response team staffed by volunteers from the TLGBQIA+ community trained in crisis counseling, CPR, mediation, and other necessary skills to support people in crisis as an alternative to 911. Yost defines crisis broadly, encompassing everything from mental health and overdose to housing instability, intimate partner violence, anti-TLGBQIA+ discrimination, and any situation in which someone finds themselves needing help. Once established, QCRU will also connect community members with ongoing support like regular wellness checks, driving people to doctors’ appointments, or to pick up medicine. Once they pass the bar in Maryland, Yost will put their legal training to use and provide direct representation to queer and trans people in need.
“Queer and trans people are already organizing to support members of our community in crisis,” says Yost. “I want to uplift existing organizing efforts and build a comprehensive, queer- and trans-competent network of support across the city, so that everyone can give and receive care in ways that are affirming to them, without having to involve police.”
QCRU will start as a volunteer network, eventually securing funding to pay the operators and responders for their time. Yost hopes to see the project grow organically and sustainably, at a speed for which the community has capacity. They want to make it easy for anyone who is interested to get involved.
“The OSI Community Fellowship will allow me to dedicate all my time to something I truly believe in,” says Yost. “It is an amazing privilege to be able to support my community and focus on this organizing and policy work for the next 18 months.”