I recently worked with a 72 year old gay man called Shaun*. Shaun’s HIV positive, has suffered four bouts of cancer, self manages a stoma and has poor mobility. When a flash flood made him homeless, his local authority initially refused to offer him interim accommodation.
Shaun had no immediate family to assist him. I’m sure that, without Stonewall Housing’s advocacy, he would have ended up on the streets. Thankfully we intervened, successfully arguing his case to receive emergency accommodation and working with him to find a longer-term option.
For older members of the LGBTQ+ community, these kinds of situations are more common than you might think. Our research shows they are more likely to experience isolation, are more likely to be estranged from their biological families and less likely to have children to turn to for support in their older years.
To truly understand why older people who identify as LGBTQ+ may experience difficulties like Shaun, it’s important to understand the environment they grew up in.
In 1983, against the backdrop of the emerging AIDs crisis, homophobic attacks from the press, police harassment, and against the advice of numerous lawyers, Stonewall Housing made plans to provide accommodation for young single homeless lesbians and gay men.
With a name inspired by the Stonewall Riots of New York in 1969, a movement led by trans people of colour against the police that sparked the modern-day LGBTQ+ movement, we did not enter the sector quietly.
Upon launching Stonewall Housing, the organisation became the target of aggressive attacks from the right-wing pres. Throughout our history we have come across countless challenges to our organisation, raising doubts over the need for specialist services that support LGBTQ+ people who are experiencing housing issues and homelessness.
Mainstream views of the LGBTQ+ community have come a long way since 1983. But as a result of living in a society not built for queer people, many LGBTQ+ people grow up with a sense of shame that bleeds into our adult lives. People who identify as LGBTQ+ are still more likely to become homeless, are more likely to experience mental health difficulties and misuse drugs or alcohol and we often still don’t feel safe in our local communities.
These difficulties span the queer generations. Charities like AKT do amazing work in supporting younger people who experience homelessness and identify as LGBTQ+, but there is less attention in the sector on the needs of older adults.
Like with many services during the pandemic, Stonewall Housing have seen a significant increase in referrals, with the most significant jump a 70% increase in referrals for people aged 50 or over.
In our ground-breaking joint research ‘Building Safe Choices 1 & 2’ in 2020, which was conducted together with Opening Doors London and Tonic Housing, we found that many older LGBTQ+ people in London are not currently getting the support and services they need, with many living in hostile or unsafe environments.
Being an older LGBTQ+ person comes with a different set of experiences compared to non-LGBTQ+ older people, such as dealing with homophobic landlords, harassment from neighbours and increased loneliness. They’re also less likely to have family or children who can offer vital companionship and support, with many older LGBTQ+ people fearful of accessing mainstream services due to the impact of decades of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination
To help address this we have partnered with Opening Doors to launch a new Caseworker role, offering specialist advice and advocacy for older LGBTQ+ people. This specialist caseworker is working as part of our Advice and Advocacy team to ensure that this group of people can access equitable healthcare, social care, community services and housing.
But we also want to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people outside the scope of our services. If you work for a housing-related organisation which would benefit from being trained in LGBTQ+ issues, please visit our website to find out more about our bespoke training service. In 2020 we provided consultancy, training and workshops to over 200 organisations, services and housing providers.
I hope that harnessing LGBTQ+ history month to raise skills and knowledge within the homelessness sector will help many more people like Shaun access the stable housing and personalised support they deserve.
*Name changed to protect the person's identity
Stonewall Housing run a free confidential advice line, open every weekday between 10:00 and 13:00, people can call 020 7359 5767.
If you are over 50 you can refer yourself or others to Stonewall Housing’s 50+ caseworker and other services using this referral form: