Iya Dammons is the Founder and Executive Director of Baltimore Safe Haven, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to empower TLGBQ Baltimoreans and their peers through direct services, advocacy, outreach, and education. Baltimore Safe Haven is the only trans-led human service nonprofit in Baltimore City. As a trans woman of color, Ms. Dammons suffered the direct impacts of race- and gender-based discrimination through her experiences of homelessness, substance use, violence, and survival sex work in the very streets where she now works to provide help to youth and adult trans women living in survival mode. Baltimore Safe Haven’s wrap-around service model includes a drop-in center with access to laundry, showers, as well as an overnight shelter for 18 to 24 year olds with a warm bed when they need one, HIV testing and linkage to care, harm reduction, and community outreach to distribute safer sex/safer use kits and health information – all from the perspective of oneness and solidarity with the community.
Ms. Dammons is invested in breaking through tokenism and describes her vision and the organization as “preventing our youth from walking in our carbon foot print from the lack of trans programming,” Her approach is based in the civil rights model of “each one, teach one”, and “for us, by us”. Baltimore Safe Haven’s services began from the back of a van that Ms. Dammons purchased with her own savings, becoming the organization’s first foot soldier in the movement to bring culturally responsive resources and services to the community. She quickly filled every gap she could think of. Mobile outreach continues to be a significant part of Ms. Dammon’s work, and is the only mobile outreach project operated in the city by a TGLBQ organization. Baltimore Safe Haven has grown in the very short span of just less than two years to an organization that offers assistance to transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people in Baltimore City to meet the needs of daily life.
Prior to founding Baltimore Safe Haven, Ms. Dammons held several roles with community nonprofits. She is currently a member of the Community Advisory Board for the LITE Study – a long-term cohort study of transgender women’s health – at Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the Transgender Response Team at the Maryland Department of Health. She resides in Baltimore City’s Patterson Park Area.