This February is LGBTQ+ History Month, a time to celebrate strides made in the fight for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and non-binary people, and reflect on the history of this struggle. However, it is also a time to consider what steps still need to be taken to support the LGBTQ+ community in the future. Homed Society aims to address the issue of homelessness in Leeds generally, working to support anyone facing or at-risk of being unhoused. But to effectively address this, as with any other social issue, it is key to recognise the intersections of oppression that affect the people involved. Here, we will explore the specific nature of homelessness within the LGBTQ+ community: looking at key causes, concerns and calls to action.
This is an upsetting topic to confront, as current statistics show concerning trends. Stonewall Housing identifies that 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ people experience homelessness at some point throughout their lives. Charity organisation akt stresses the risk among LGBTQ+ youth especially, as their research reveals that almost a quarter of young people aged 16-25 who are at risk of homelessness identify as LGBTQ+. This is the same age as many of our student members. It is also a much higher percentage than the proportion of the population that identifies as such: 3.2% as LGB+ and 0.5% as having a different gender identity than assigned at birth, in the 2021 Census.
akt highlights that the younger community might face homelessness at a higher average than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, due to particular risk factors causing a sense of feeling unwelcome at home. Whilst we have made strides in the fight for rights in government policy and cultural attitudes, homophobia persists in our society. For some, staying at home is not an option if they are stuck in an unsupportive or even hostile environment. On collecting data for their most recent report, 77% of LGBTQ+ young people gave, 'family rejection, abuse or being asked to leave home' as a cause of their homelessness. The precarious nature of a typically assumed family “home” in such an early stage of life is a particularly relevant risk factor, which can present itself alongside other common causes of homelessness.
Once at risk of homelessness, the LGBTQ+ community faces obstacles in accessing appropriate services. Beyond the general underfunding and lack of support from the government, the community may face specific challenges in finding housing or refuge. Specialised emergency accommodations that accommodate the specific needs of LGBTQ+ people facing homelessness in the UK are few and far between: most are found in and only serve the Greater London area, with a lack of funding for services outside of the capital.
Beyond that, in mainstream housing services, over half (59 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people have faced some form of discrimination or harassment while accessing services. Thus, it’s unsurprising that service users feel apprehensive about sharing their sexuality or gender identity with staff. As the Centre for Homeless Impact reports, there is a fear of disclosing personal information for fear of a hostile response. This discrimination can take a number of forms, like offensive language, hostile attitudes, misgendering or deadnaming; all in a space whose sole purpose should be to support vulnerable people. This is no wonder when more than two-fifths of local authorities and housing associations have not received training on LGBTQ+ inclusion or LGBTQ+ homelessness; that hardly helps staff foster a welcoming environment. But the lack of data collected by accommodation services presents a cyclical problem of hidden homelessness: the less information we have about LGBTQ+ experiences, the less information we have about how to address the specific issues facing those at risk.
Amongst this, it is particularly pressing to recognise the situation for transgender and non-binary people amidst the current climate of transphobia in the UK. As they face increasing vitriol and violence in the media, this will bleed into societal attitudes, including those of staff and other service users. This will only contribute further to feeling neither safe nor comfortable in single sex services, for fear of facing discrimination (if not denied access to begin with). Whilst the data gap makes it difficult to get a clear picture, we can safely assume the alternative is even worse. General statistics outlined by Crisis show that people sleeping on the street are almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence, over twice as likely to report a physical health issue then the general public, and nearly twice as likely to experience mental health issues. How much more will it affect trans and non-binary people who face a hate crimes, inaccessible healthcare, and a lack of specialised mental health support, before being made more vulnerable through homelessness too?
This situation is dire, as the statistics have shown. But it’s no good giving up. Instead, it is important to recognise the extent and specific situation of LGBTQ+ homelessness, so that we might begin to address it. There are a few common proposals made by charities working within the LGBTQ+ community. At the level of data collection and analysis, it will be necessary to close the data gap, and gain more information about LGBTQ+ homelessness in order to provide useful specialised support. Practically, this will require more funding from governmental and charitable bodies. In this way, the sector can aim to provide more LGBTQ+ appropriate emergency refuge and housing services. Increased training for staff working in these services, and listening to recommendations made by LGBTQ+ service users, will help to make these services more inclusive, and therefore more accessible. In these ways, and many more, we might offer more effective interventions to prevent the risks associated with homelessness amongst LGBTQ+ people.
More than anything, it is necessary that we turn the tide on homophobia and transphobia in our local and global communities. Together, in solidarity, we can fight to end prejudices surrounding sexuality, gender identity, and homelessness, and help those who face hostility for being LGBTQ+, unhoused, and sometimes both. This is a responsibility we can all take on as individuals, if we commit to keep learning, fighting, and supporting each other, every LGBTQ+ History Month and every other day to come.
Written by Abby Boon
akt. 2023. The LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness Briefing. Available at: https://www.akt.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=7cd60444-0491-4f8c-a830-cf8a8b7c1b5c
akt. 2021. Youth Homelessness Report 2021. Available from: https://www.akt.org.uk/youth-homelessness-report-2021
Big Issue. 2023. Here are the charities leading the fight against LGBTQ+ homelessness in the UK. Available from: https://www.bigissue.com/news/housing/here-are-the-charities-leading-the-fight-against-lgbtq-homelessness-in-the-uk/
Centre for Homelessness Impact. 2022. Sexuality, gender identity and homelessness: Incidence, experience and evidence of homelessness among LGBTQ+ people. Available from: https://assets-global.website-files.com/59f07e67422cdf0001904c14/63317fdfd1d200585b60b1a3_CHI.Sexuality-gender%20identity%20and%20homelessness%20policy%20paper.pdf
Crisis. 2023. About LGBTQ+ Homelessness. Available from: https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/about-lgbtqplus-homelessness/
Crisis. 2023. Health and Wellbeing. Available from: https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/homelessness-knowledge-hub/health-and-wellbeing/
Homeless Link. 2017. Supporting LGBTQ+ people in homelessness services: An introduction for frontline staff. Available from: https://homelesslink-1b54.kxcdn.com/media/documents/Supporting_LGBTIQ_people_in_homelessness_services_June2020.pdf
Jotepreet Bhandal. 2023. Tackling the LGBTQ+ youth homelessness crisis. Available from: https://www.housing.org.uk/news-and-blogs/blogs/jotepreet-bhandal/tackling-the-lgbtq-youth-homelessness-crisis/
ONS. 2023. Gender identity, England and Wales: Census 2021. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/genderidentity/bulletins/genderidentityenglandandwales/census2021
ONS. 2023. Sexual orientation, England and Wales: Census 2021. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/sexuality/bulletins/sexualorientationenglandandwales/census2021