‘Casual homophobia, biphobia and transphobia… It can happen through reaching out to generic organisations, local authorities – and, really, just the world.’
Tracey Dwamenah-Branet has worked with young LGBTQ+ people for the last three years, and is all too aware of the overwhelming challenges they face when trying to access support.
But it was only when she started working for the Albert Kennedy Trust (akt), that she realised some of the biggest barriers are experienced by LGBTQ+ young people at risk of homelessness.
‘As a youth worker, I was aware of it,’ said Tracey, who joined the youth homelessness charity eight months ago as its London services manager.
‘But because the people I worked with were a lot younger there was a lot more support and often, in the case of schools, they had their peers.
‘Whereas now, introducing some quite big social issues such as homelessness, you realise there are a lot of problems young LGBTQ+ people face when they try to access the help and support they need.’
Statistics published by Stonewall in 2018 revealed 18% of LGBTQ+ people have been homeless at some point in their lives, with a majority of cases centring solely around an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
It’s a figure many homelessness organisations fear is set to rise, with akt reporting an increase of 71% in the number of young LGBTQ+ people accessing its services nationally between 2021 and 2022.
And given a study from the LGBT Foundation reported 71.5% of people accessing its domestic abuse service had not thought about seeking support before, it’s fair to assume such statistics show no sign of dropping.
Ryan Douglas lived on the street for a total of three weeks after leaving his family home because of a homophobic family member. ‘It was the lowest of the low I’ve ever felt,’ he recalls.
‘It took personal strength, courage in asking for help and finding proper support to pull me out of it.’
When he came out at 19, Ryan admits he was worried about how his family might react, but most were supportive.
However, after being physically attacked by one member who had bullied him over his sexuality, he packed a bag and walked out of their home at 4am in the morning.
‘I walked for so long that morning and it was so cold but I had no idea where I was going, Ryan remembers. ‘I ended up getting in touch with my sisters, who let me crash on their sofa for about a week until I could find more stable accommodation.’
After reaching out to a homeless charity, he managed to find a roof over his head sharing accommodation with out tenants – although grateful at first, the experience soon became fraught with tension.
‘I tried to just stay in my room most of the time. Eventually, I hated being there,’ explains Ryan. ‘Not long into my stay, the manager accused me of climbing over the gate at the back to break the 10pm curfew.
‘She said she caught me on video doing it but I wasn’t – it was someone else staying in the block of flats. Without much warning and after just seven weeks of living there, she formally applied to kick me out and despite my protests, I had to leave.’
This time, Ryan was forced to live on the streets as he didn’t feel he had any other option. ‘I made a little makeshift den close to the University of Manchester and had to sleep under the archway in the cold.’
With 59% of LGBTQ+ young people having experienced some form of discrimination or harassment while accessing housing services, experts continue to ask what more can be done – not just to tackle homelessness, but to better support those threatened with it.
‘Services should be tailored by and for LGBTQ+ people, to support us into safe housing where young LGBTQ+ people can thrive,’ explains Bob Green, a housing consultant for the LGBT Foundation.
‘The current system is failing young LGBTQ+ people, and to ensure we end homelessness for all of them, LGBTQ+ accommodation projects, housing advice and support services must be levelled up across the country, so they can find safe, affordable housing.’
The failure of housing providers and other services to undertake comprehensive and inclusive monitoring of gender and sexual identity, is just one of a number of factors preventing the true level of LGBTQ+ homelessness from being known.
A report published by akt last month found 19% of organisations surveyed do not reference LGBTQ+ homelessness in any of their policies, procedures and strategies, while 85% say their data capture could be more inclusive of a range of gender identities.
But as Jotepeet Bhandal – campaigns, policy and research lead at akt – explains, the heteronormative practices of a number of services can have far greater consequences, discouraging young LGBTQ+ people from ‘coming out’ to services, and even prevent them seeking support at all.
This is particularly the case for trans and non-binary young people, with the LGBT Youth Commission on Housing and Homelessness reporting service users experienced additional barriers such as misgendering and the provision of same-sex facilities, which impacted their ability to access shelters and accommodation.
Talking about the difficulties in accessing support, Jotepeet says: ‘It shows we’ve got a long way to go in terms of acceptance – whether you’re looking at families, or whether you’re looking at what we need to be doing in terms of how inclusive services are.
‘We need to be looking at what interaction with services looks like. Are they equipped to really support LGBTQ+ people in general, and then specifically young people? Only a third of young people sought support from a local authority when they were experiencing homelessness – so there must be some reasons behind that.
‘There’s a tendency to say the issue is around individual disclosure. It’s not about forcing people to say what their sexual orientation and gender identity is, but it’s looking at what organisations are doing to create those safe and inclusive environments that make young people feel able to disclose that information if they feel it’s appropriate.
‘That’s something we really should be focusing on, because if you don’t have the data then that demographic is basically hidden which affects policy and really everything else.’
For Monica Gallo, a senior psychotherapist at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, it’s only by understanding the factors fuelling homelessness among LGBTQ+ young people that organisations can truly begin to develop policies which are fully inclusive and accessible.
‘The reason it’s important to know what causes homelessness among this group is it’ll help you support LGBTQ+ young people better,’ she explains.
‘For instance, young people who are homeless are more at risk of exploitation and grooming. But when it comes to LGBTQ+ young people, they’re a bit more at risk because the dynamics tend to change as they’re often searching for some sort of stability, or someone to accept them.
‘A majority of the worst issues I’ve had to deal with really tend to fall within the realms of trauma – so the amount of instances of neglect, abuse and exploitation particularly among the LGBTQ+ population of my young people have experienced.
‘It’s really quite rife, and I can’t think of one young person I’ve worked with from that demographic who hasn’t experienced something like that, which in itself is really just heartbreaking.’
With a background in mental health services and supporting homeless populations in both the UK and US, Monica says while the reasons for homelessness are inherent, factors such as familial rejection and other types of abuse tend to increase in the LGBTQ+ young people she supports.
‘I worked with an LGBTQ+ young person who had a very difficult upbringing and had to endure experiences no child should,’ she says, describing one of the many cases she’s come across.
‘Somehow, no other services were working with them at the time, apart from Centrepoint and their GP. They engaged in therapy for quite some time, part of it exploring their gender identity.
‘I supported them to access a free chest binder through an organisation called Point of Pride and helped coordinate care with other services to get them the multi-agency support they needed.
‘I can remember feeling privileged to be part of their journey, but also aware it should’ve started much sooner for them and these doors of support should’ve been opened for them long ago.’
After living on the streets for three weeks, Ryan admits that he was left feeling suicidal. ‘I was in a really low place,’ he recalls. ‘I wasn’t sure where my life was going.’
However, he was finally able to get things back on track after getting in touch with akt’s support team.
‘Just talking and laughing with Angela from the services team made me feel so much better because she completely understood and empathised with what I was going through,’ remembers Ryan, who now volunteers for the charity. ‘She helped come up with actual solutions to my problems, which was an unbelievable help to me.
‘We’ve kept in touch since then and little does she know that our chats and the support from the charity saved me.
‘They helped me put down a deposit for a flat, second month’s rent, secure a new job in sales, new suits and shoes for it and even travel expenses. It was such a blessing and I felt so grateful for all the help I received to get back on my feet.’
However, shocking statistics published by akt show that the issues Ryan faced are still rife among the LGBTQ+ community, with up up to 24% of young people at risk of homelessness identify as LGBTQ+, and 77% citing familial rejection and abuse after coming out as the primary cause.
Half of young people surveyed as part of the charity’s LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness Report feared expressing their identity to family members would lead to them being evicted, with just 13% feeling supported by their family once homeless.
Meanwhile, 61% of LGBTQ+ young people felt frightened or threatened by their family members before they became homeless, with 16% forced to perform sexual acts against their will by family members.
‘It must be such a devastating feeling because your parents should be the people in this world that are supposed to love, protect you and make you feel warm, cosy and full of trust,’ says Jotepeet. ‘If you can’t be honest with them about who you are, without fear of being rejected, there’s something wrong.’
And that’s without including the damaging effects of Covid-19 which, Monica explains, has essentially added fuel to the fire of a crisis within a community already at a higher risk.
At the height of the pandemic, akt saw an 118% increase in the number of new referrals to its services between April and August 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
It led to the charity urging LGBTQ+ young people to ‘think hard’ before coming out to parents until they could access adequate support, amid research from YouGov which revealed one in 10 adults would feel uncomfortable at the prospect.
Tim Sigsworth, chief executive of akt, said at the time: ‘If you’re a young person and you’re thinking of coming out, press pause on until you get support.
‘You can’t predict at these completely unprecedented times how your parents will react. They, like you, are under a lot of stress and they may not react in a positive way.’
‘I know for myself, and my colleagues on the health team, we saw a massive increase in terms of the young people that were being referred to us, says Monica. ‘My waiting list skyrocketed from where it was pre-pandemic.
‘We also saw the exacerbation of domestic violence which young LGBTQ+ people are particularly at risk of too – so the pandemic elevated risks in a lot of ways that then come to overwhelm services already overwhelmed.’
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Figures show LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to experience targeted violence, and sexual exploitation compared to other homeless youth – with almost one fifth feeling they had to engage in causal sex just to find somewhere to live while they were homeless, according to akt.
Former youth worker Tracey says these experiences, which often have significant mental health implications, combined with a lack of awareness among a number of support services, risks seeing more and more LGBTQ+ young people falling through the net.
‘I can only imagine the mental health issues associated with having to suppress such a large part of your identity in order to fit into a family, and then having the additional barriers of not being supported or loved.
‘Everyone in the world wants to be accepted, so knowing there’s an additional facet you’ve got to then fight with and try to suppress if you want to be accepted in a family can be quite difficult.
‘I can understand why young people don’t want to reach out to services because I think it makes the process of leaving home and realising they’ve become homeless more painful.’
In a survey of 161 LGBTQ+ young people threatened with homelessness between July 2020 and January 2021, only 33% felt safe to disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity when asked by service providers.
‘It’s not being addressed, and it will get worse if there aren’t improved pathways for young people to access services, and if young people aren’t visible in these services,’ Tracey explains. ‘If the data you collect isn’t reflective of identities and sexualities already out there, that will have an impact.
‘These are the little things organisations and local authorities can change to make things easier for young people to actually want to reach out.
‘One particular scenario that stands out to me was when I saw a young non-binary person who I saw myself mirrored in their life and their upbringing,’ Tracey adds. ‘They had been knocked from pillar to post and coming to akt was, to them, the final place they were willing to go to for help. To me it showed a large issue in regards to LGBTQ+ homelessness, and how organisations struggle to support young people who identify as so.’
Joepreet says while authorities have taken positive steps to develop more trauma-informed responses to LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, there is still work to be done to ensure young people are given the support they so desperately need.
‘The most shocking thing for me was wondering why some services were so ill-equipped and the fact despite the introduction of mandatory monitoring of sexual orientation, we’re still seeing incomplete data.
‘We really need to look at whether services are equipped to support LGBTQ+ people in general, and also specifically young people. Most young people will be stepping into an environment, especially if you’re trans or non-binary, where there isn’t that level of awareness of things like preferred names, pronouns.’
For Monica, training is essential to ensure the needs of LGBTQ+ young people facing homelessness are adequately met moving forward.
‘There needs to be understanding, and people need to know what they’re talking about,’ she explains. ‘People need to not be afraid to ask questions and to be able to ask and learn from a young person.
‘We’re still learning, and as far as we’ve come forward, there are still a lot of of things we need to do as a society as a whole to make us more inclusive and to make people feel welcome and feel like, no matter who they are, they are a part of every service that is created to support them.’
The idea of understanding the causes of homelessness among LGBTQ+ young people is something LGBTQ+ charities are working hard on. Akt launched its No Room For Hate campaign in 2018 to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, and to provide safe homes to young people and to raise money to continue its life-saving work.
‘First and foremost, just listen to the young person and what they’re going through,’ Tracey adds. ‘Just empathising and listening to that young person is the first step. There are little things organisations and teams can be doing that doesn’t amount to massive change, but will make a massive difference to a young person when they do approach.’
Who to contact for support
If you’re a young LGBTQ+ person struggling with a housing situation, you can contact akt’s live chat 10am-4.30pm five days a week. Alternatively, you can make an online referral here.
If you require housing advice, including finding safe and secure LGBTQ+ friendly homes, you cant contact Stonewall Housing on 020 7359 5767 or get in touch via a self-referral form.
For emotional support, you can contact the LGBT Foundation on 0845 3 30 30 30 or 0161 235 8034 (10am to 10pm, daily) or email email@example.com. Alternatively, you can call the National Lesbian and Gay Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 10am to 11pm seven days a week.
If you are a victim of sexual or other types of abuse, you can reach out to NAPAC by calling 0808 801 0331, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Claie.Wilson@metro.co.uk
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/11/in-focus-why-lgbtq-young-people-are-more-likely-to-face-homelessness-16707952/ In Focus: Why LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to face homelessness