It may not be well known that 24% of the youth homeless population in the U.K identify as LGBTQ+, meaning they are overrepresented in this demographic.
Despite this, their existence remains largely unreported along with their needs and the specific barriers they face. This cultivates an environment in which LGBTQ+ young people are trapped in a cycle of deprivation, hidden homelessness, rough sleeping and poor mental health.
The LGBTQ+ Homelessness Report provides evidence and justification for the changes we want to see. New research from LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity akt, gives voice to the challenging and often sombre experiences of LGBTQ+ young people across the country.
The research reveals some sobering statistics - rejection and abuse from family members based on the LGBTQ+ identity of the young person is often the driving force behind their homelessness. In fact, 77% of our referrals cite this as the main reason behind them becoming homeless.
50 per cent of the LGBTQ+ young people we surveyed feared expressing their LGBTQ+ identity to family members would lead to them being evicted. And just 13 per cent of LGBTQ+ young people felt supported by parents or stepparents whilst homeless.
Some recognition of the prevalence of this, and the lasting impact of an abusive household on the mental and physical wellbeing of a young person, would be a welcome step for local authorities to take. In addition, a willingness to acknowledge a hostile household as reason enough to grant an LGBTQ+ young person priority need for safer housing – in the same way it is for intimate partner violence - would lead to considerably better outcomes.
Once a young person is facing homelessness many don’t know where to turn to and can, out of desperation, resort to risky behaviours in an attempt to secure a bed for the night. Almost one fifth (17 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people felt like they had to have casual sex to find somewhere to stay while they were homeless.
Less than half (44 per cent) knew of any housing support available to them, and less than a quarter (24 percent) knew of any support available to them in general. Whilst less than one third (35 per cent) reached out to their local authority for support.
It’s clear that there has been a breakdown in the relationship between service providers and LGBTQ+ young people seeking support. A lack of awareness and training around the vulnerabilities and challenges facing this group has meant young people feel unsupported and it has led to a feeling of mistrust. Likewise, our research indicates that services are not doing enough to reach minorities and position themselves as a safe space to turn to.
Of those young people who did seek support, over half (59 per cent) faced some form of discrimination or harassment, including one fifth who experienced ‘dead-naming’ i.e. referring to a trans person with the name they were assigned at birth.
So how do we make sure LGBTQ+ young people are able to get the support they need?
We make sure mainstream services work with specialists - like akt - to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complex needs of LGBTQ+ young people. This includes the additional barriers faced by people of colour, those with a disability and trans people, and ways to navigate these barriers.
We also adopt a uniformed policy of mandatory monitoring whereby all mainstream service providers record the gender identity and sexual orientation of their services users. This will improve the visibility of LGBTQ+ young people facing homelessness and give an accurate portrayal of the scale of the problem, so that quicker response interventions can be put in place.
Finally, we listen. This report voices the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ young people and their recommendations to ensure the services that are meant to help them actually do so.
Services need to begin to use more inclusive language to signal to LGBTQ+ young people this is a safe space; increased representation of different ethnicities, gender identities and sexual orientation in the frontline workforce can help build a culture of understanding and acceptance; services need to have an active online presence in this era of social media, for example increased visibility on Twitter and Instagram will increase the likelihood of young people knowing you’re there.
Without sounding too ominous, this report is essentially ‘the writing on the wall’. It is now the responsibility of policy makers, funders and services to take note.