Opinion

Why the next London Mayor must address LGBT homelessness

There are just 77 beds in London to help more than 1,300 people at risk of LGBT homelessness each year. That must change, writes Bex Shorunke.

LGBT homelessness charity akt on the London Pride march. Image: akt

LGBT homelessness is a serious issue in London.   

One in five LGBT people (18 per cent) including 25 per cent of trans people have experienced homelessness at some point in their life. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of young people facing homelessness are LGBTQ+. And one quarter of older LGBT+ Londoners have a disability or health issue that requires specific housing – something many feel is being neglected. 

Unfortunately, a lack of awareness of the specific needs and challenges faced by LGBTIQA+ people, coupled with the existing barrier of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, has further marginalised LGBTIQA+ people from mainstream conversations around homelessness in the capital. This has resulted in a chronic lack of suitable LGBTIQA+ housing. 

Right now, there are just 77 community housing bed spaces in London to support more than 1300 LGBTIQA+ people in need of them each year.  

Covid has exacerbated this issue further. Funding for core services delivered by frontline charities — whose services have been a lifeline for many LGBTIQA+ people throughout the pandemic – habeen dramatically reduced. Meanwhile, the demand for these services has skyrocketed. akt alone has reported a 118 per cent increase in new referrals between April and August 2020 compared with the previous year. 

To make any real progress in addressing the issue of LGBTIQA+ homelessness in the Capital the Mayor of London needs to commit to tackling the problem. 

The London LGBTIQA+ Community Housing Coalition (LLCHC) has launched a manifesto with seven key recommendations that, if followed, will significantly improve the life outcomes of London’s most disadvantaged LGBTIQA+ citizens. 

The manifesto from the coalition  consisting of akt, Tonic, Stonewall, Stonewall Housing, the Outside Project, Microrainbow and Consortium – is underpinned by a recommendation for an LGBTIQA+ housing strategy. 

This would specify the experiences of LGBTIQA+ Londoners to include their specific needs and the barriers faced. This intel can then be actioned by mainstream service providers. Interventions can be put in place to properly support LGBTIQA+ people. 

A London-wide housing and support pathway for LGBTIQA+ people is another equally important recommendation from the manifesto.  

It would see local authorities across London united by a common understanding of the drivers behind an LGBTIQA+ person’s homelessness and a recognition of and impetus to secure the specialist housing support required.  

Additionally, those frontline staff who are delivering the services would undergo training in LGBTIQA+ awareness.   

This would encourage them to use inclusive language in the workplace and contextualise the issues that disproportionately impact LGBTIQA+ people: poor mental health, substance misuse and an increased risk of exposure to HIV for MSM (men who have sex with men). 

Service providers who display knowledge around these areas signal to LGBTIQA+ people that they are in a safe, welcoming space, laying down the foundations of a trusting working relationship between both parties.  

All seven of the recommendations outlined in the manifesto will help the next Mayor of London navigate homelessness in a post-Covid climate. However, should the Mayor choose not to implement them, we will see the issue of LGBTIQA+ homelessness rapidly deteriorate across the Capital. 

LGBTIQA+ young people, refugees, and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable in our society. Without outside intervention, many will feel compelled to continue engaging in increasingly risky behaviour for survival.  

This includes partaking in risky casual sex to secure a bed for the night, sofa surfing in unsafe, insecure environments –from friend’s sofas to bus shelters – and sleeping rough, which leaves them liable to experiencing violence or exploitation.  

LGBTIQA+ people – particularly young people, refugees, asylum seekers, trans and people of colour – are particularly at risk of becoming ‘hidden homeless’. This means they fall under the radar of local authorities and are left out of official figures.  

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This lack of visibility and data keeps mainstream services, policy makers and funders in the dark about LGBTIQA+ homelessness, resulting in their neglecting the issue. This in turn results in support services not being set up to receive and adequately support LGBTIQA+ people.  

This feeds back to the LGBTIQA+ community. 

LGBTIQA+ people feel unable to seek out support services out of a fear of being judged, misunderstood, or scrutinised. According to a new, over half (59 per cent) of respondents faced some form of discrimination or harassment while accessing services. 

A further one quarter (24 per cent) weren’t aware of any support services available to them at all. A lack of understanding around the trajectories of LGBTIQA+ people facing homelessnesresults in services lacking the intel on how to connect with this demographic. 

It is only through partnership between the Mayor of London and community organisations that we can hope to end LGBTIQA+ homelessness in the capital. This manifesto leads with real, evidenced ways to improve a housing system which is failing to protect those most in need. No person should have to choose between a safe home and being who they are – let’s not make them. 

Bex Shorunke is a senior media officer at LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity akt

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