The hidden homeless
akt is a specialist charity that supports LGBTQ+ young people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or vulnerably housed. This particular group accounts for 24% of the young homeless population, as stated in a study conducted by akt in 2015*. This statistic includes anyone who is sofa surfing, staying with friends and family or living in hostels, and therefore is not counted in main homelessness statistics; the people we would call ‘hidden homeless’. This group is generally also the group that doesn’t present to local councils or third sector organisations as homeless. This can make it difficult to raise awareness and advocate for LGBTQ+ specific homelessness issues, as many people who make up this cohort are invisible to mainstream services.
The issues in gathering adequate data are three-fold:
- LGBTQ+ young people often don’t seek help, as they don’t feel safe to do so;
- When they do seek help, LGBTQ+ young people don’t always disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to local authorities or housing and homelessness services, due to fear of discrimination; and
- Services often have inadequate, outdated data capturing methods to monitor the sexual orientation and gender identity of the people they support.
The numbers of LGBTQ+ young people presenting to the council or seeking help from homeless sector charities do not reflect the 24% we know to be identifying as LGBTQ+, and when the data is collected, it’s inadequately captured as it does not encourage disclosure. We can only conclude from this that some people still do not feel safe to “come out” to services. Many young people akt works with have reported negative experiences when disclosing their gender identity or sexual orientation to services they’ve accessed.
“Homeless LGBT young people are less likely to seek help or support than non-LGBT homeless young people. When they do, a limited understanding of the experience of LGBT homeless youth & an assumption of heterosexuality by some service providers poses further risks of discrimination.”
To address this, we need both a systemic and cultural change in the way data is collected and the attitudes of those collecting it. Many organisations I have spoken to tell me that they are open and welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, however, we can see that they inherently fail to create environments that are safe for young people to come out. These providers have no idea that the person sitting in front of them doesn’t know if they are in a safe place to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. One housing manager told me that he didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t feel safe to talk about being LGBTQ+.
The unique difficulties that LGBTQ+ young people face with regards to homelessness are intrinsically part of the reason they struggle to disclose or access services, with over 70% citing familial breakdown and rejection as a reason for homelessness, i.e. a trusted bond between a young person and an adult has been broken, many will have struggled to find support elsewhere. Unless organisations understand the changes they need to make to become a more inclusive service, they will remain inadequately equipped to help LGBTQ+ service users or even know that they exist.
akt will be lobbying for more inclusive monitoring practices within housing and homelessness services and will seek to raise awareness around the specific needs of LGBTQ+ young people when facing homelessness.
There are some small changes organisations can make immediately that can be impactful in creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ clients, and helping ensure they feel able not just to access a service, but also feel free to be themselves while accessing that service in terms of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Very simple actions like keeping the rainbow flag in the window, introducing a rainbow lanyard for staff, or asking service users their preferred pronouns can make a huge difference. Stonewall, the LGBT equality charity, has produced an example of a monitoring form service providers can utilise to be more inclusive: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/monitoring-form
When staying home isn’t staying safe
Many young LGBTQ+ young people are forced to stay at home in hostile environments during this crisis or face becoming voluntarily homeless. We are currently dealing with an unprecedented number of young people living with homophobic or transphobic families or carers. The impact on their self-esteem mental health palpably visible as they struggle to live side by side with constant family bullying and rejection.
In the current situation there is no option to stay with friends or move to a safer environment. Councils are only dealing with emergency accommodation for those that are currently homeless, making it impossible to make the case for priority need in terms of abusive hostile environments, unless the abuse is visibly apparent. Even in normal times homophobic and transphobic bullying in the home is not always eligible criteria for Priority Emergency Housing, in particular within youth homelessness sector, where the overarching policy is prevention and a return to the family home. While akt understand this as a policy, there are many reasons why this is not an option for an LGBTQ+ young person and, while many parents and carers say they are willing to have their LGBTQ+ young person live at home, there is no recognition of how unsafe these young people feel in what is tantamount to a very hostile environment. All we can do, unless there is an immediate risk, is help them plan for the future and give them hope that their situation will change.
During this time ,to help support more young people from across the UK, akt has ramped up its digital services. From webchat to online Q&A’s, we are expanding our reach by providing online services through our web and social media platforms. Our youth engagement team have set up weekly Q&A’s on Instagram and Zoom hangouts sessions. We are seeing more people access our Webchat facility on our website, many of these conversations turn into referrals and the majority are from young people stuck at home due to COVID 19 who can no longer bear the situation they are in.
We are also helping more young people based in towns and cities we don’t have a presence in. Using our digital platforms, we can offer support, advice and guidance. We have sent people phone top-ups and food vouchers and advocated on their behalf to local authorities, helped with benefits, other issues and signposted to other providers.
For help and support visit:
1. LGBT Youth Homelessness: A UK National Scoping of Cause, Prevalence, Response & Outcome (The Albert Kennedy Trust, 2015)
You can connect with akt directly via the links below:
akt website: https://www.akt.org.uk/
akt Twitter: @aktCharity
akt Instagram: @aktCharity
akt Facebook: @aktCharityUk
akt YouTube: akt YouTube
Mijanou Blech has over 25 years of experience in the community arts sector. Having run several small arts charities and run large departments in both regeneration and cultural organisations, she can work at both a strategic level and on the ground developing programmes and projects within community arts and regeneration contexts. She recently changed her focus away from the arts and is now working with akt to develop their support services for young people in Bristol and the South West.