LGBT History Month: No one should face homelessness

Sorana Vieru, Senior Campaigns Officer

February marks LGBT History Month, a time for us to reflect on the historic struggle for LGBT+ rights and liberation across the world, and to shine a spotlight on the achievements and work of LGBT+ people.

We can sometimes take for granted that  rights and liberties are afforded to everyone, regardless of sexuality and gender identity. However, the progress we celebrate today has been achieved by decades of campaigning and struggle for equal rights.

From the decriminalisation of homosexuality across all nations starting in England and Wales in 1967, to gaining employment rights for transgender people in 1999, to repealing Section 28, the introduction of the equal age of consent, gender recognition, civil partnerships, the Equality Act and legalising same-sex marriage only 5 years ago; LGBT History Month is a time to celebrate every one of these milestones.

Homelessness and discrimination pose a dual threat to LGBT people, who face layers of stigma and isolation

But the battle is far from over and we’re still a long way from ending homelessness, particularly for vulnerable groups like young LGBT people, who suffer disproportionately from discrimination and intolerance - two key drivers of homelessness.

According to Albert Kennedy Trust (2015), almost one in four young homeless people identifies as LGBT and 77% of LGBT youth homelessness is caused by family rejection, abuse or being asked to leave home.

They have also found that compared to their non-LGBT peers, young LGBT people facing homelessness are more likely to be subject to violence, sexual exploitation, develop substance abuse problems and engage in higher levels of risky sexual behaviour. This includes the heightened risk of experiencing violence when sleeping rough, but also the risk of harassment and homophobic and transphobic bullying in temporary accommodation, or when sleeping in tents or in friends’ or strangers’ houses. As a consequence, homelessness has a much higher impact on the health, wellbeing, safety and access to employment and education of this group.

Once in a vulnerable situation, members of the LGBT homeless population are also less likely to seek support. If they do, the Albert Kennedy Trust found that services aren’t always well-equipped to deal with or understand LGBT-specific issues, especially those of the trans community.

This is particularly alarming given Stonewall found last year that a quarter of trans people they surveyed has experienced homelessness.

The LGBT community is not only more at risk of homelessness due to abuse or violence in their family according to the Albert Kennedy Trust, but it can also find escaping homelessness difficult as the APPG for Ending Homelessness has heard as part of its inquiry into rapid rehousing last year.

Stonewall research from 2018 also found that one in four of trans people was discriminated against when looking for a home to rent or buy in the last year. One in five non-binary people has also experienced discrimination while looking for a new home.

Fighting for everyone’s right to a stable home

Given the huge economic cost, as well as the devastating human cost of homelessness, it’s clear that prevention is better than cure. The Albert Kennedy Trust have led the way in putting prevention into practice by launching a digital network connecting young people with eMentors and resources, running Purple Door, the country’s first emergency safe house for LGBT young people and launching Rainbow Packs, which provide young people with everything they need to access and maintain private tenancies.

At Crisis, we continue to make the case for prevention-focused initiatives, which we know play such an important role in limiting the impact of homelessness on people’s lives and public services. By increasingly reaching marginalised communities and reducing the need for complex and costly relief interventions, these initiatives must be at the heart of any strategy to reduce and, ultimately, end homelessness.

The Government also has a key role to play. If it is to avoid undermining the prevention agenda established by the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017), it must truly consider the needs of vulnerable LGBT people in its guidance and policy-making, particularly when we know LGBT people are over-represented in other groups more likely to experience homelessness.

For example, young LGBT people seeking asylum are often not seen as ‘at risk’ and Stonewall found that 1 in 4 lesbian and bisexual women experienced domestic abuse in a relationship.

Crisis has recommended that the Home Office extends the 28-day move-on period for newly recognised refugees to at least 56 days to ensure that local authorities have sufficient time to work with a household to prevent them from becoming homeless. We have also recommended that anyone who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse is automatically considered ‘priority need’ for housing.

We know that homelessness is not inevitable, and with political will, it can be ended.

If LGBT History Month can teach us anything, it’s that change doesn’t happen overnight, but with dedication, resolve and unity, we can succeed against the odds.

Together we will end homelessness, for everyone.

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