There are many issues that disproportionately affect LGBTIQ+ people in society, from mental health problems to hate crime. One of the less considered issues, however, is how over-represented queer people are amongst the UK’s homeless. Research by the Albert Kennedy Trust shows that up to a quarter of homeless young people identify as LGBTIQ – that’s a seven times over-representation of the queer community amongst the homeless.
One organisation aiming to tackle this problem is The Outside Project, which is in its final week of fundraising for a 12-bed tour bus to use as the UK’s first LGBTIQ+ crisis/homeless shelter. The project is run by LGBTIQ+ activists who work in the homeless sector, with personal experiences of homelessness and the complex issues the community faces.
The Nopebook spoke with Carla Ecola, founder of The Outside Project, about the specific challenges faced by the queer community, and the short and long term goals of the project.
What specific challenges do LGBTIQ+ people face in terms of how they become homeless, and when on the streets?
“The main causes of homelessness have always been escaping domestic violence and abuse, sexual violence, having mental health problems, substance misuse issues and financial hardship,” says Carla. “The LGBTIQ+ community are at minimum twice as likely to fall into these categories than our heterosexual and cisgender peers, with the added issues of being made homeless when ‘coming out’ and hate crime.
“Bisexual women and BAME trans women are most likely to suffer, which is especially awful when you consider Marsha P Johnson (who started the Stonewall riot and effectively the LGBTIQ+ rights movement) was a BAME, bisexual, trans woman.”
A common cause of homelessness is domestic abuse, and often in the media the focus will be on heteronormative relationships – the idea that men are the only perpetrators, and women are the only victims. Whilst domestic abuse is of course horrible for people of any sexuality or gender identity, a heteronormative framing of this type of abuse can have an adverse effect on members of the LGBTIQ+ community experiencing this themselves.
“It can often make queer people feel that their experience might not be recognised,” says Carla. “Or they might not even recognise it themselves, meaning they are more likely to remain in abusive relationships for longer.”
“If you’re not out to your GP then you can’t fully explain the situation that you’re in, in order to get the right support.”
Unique levels of violence and hate crime within the queer community means that LGBTIQ+ people are more likely to suffer with mental health issues. “When it comes to accessing support services, there are a lot out there that are meant to catch people before they become homeless, such as your GP or mental health support,” explains Carla. “But if you’re not out to your GP then you can’t fully explain the situation that you’re in, in order to get the right support.
“When the LGBTIQ+ community feel vulnerable or at risk, they’re more likely to stay in the closet when trying to access support services as they’re generally heteronormative environments,” she continues. “A lack of training around LGBTIQ+ people’s needs means that the gatekeepers of places where people can seek help don’t seem approachable for our community.”
“And there are no real statistics for anyone over the age of 25 – the research ages out so there’s a gap we need to fill. We know that there are a lot of people who are asked to leave marital homes or family homes when they come out later in life. Coming out can often lead to homelessness and people leaving their home networks, especially if they come from small towns and are trying to start again somewhere new without support, and no help with the trauma that they’re experiencing.”
What are the short term and long term goals of The Outside Project?
“Short term what we’re looking to do is catch people who have missed all the safety nets,” says Carla. “People who are rough sleeping, or ‘hidden homeless’ – people sleeping in parks, or even resorting to ‘survival sex’ where they will enter into short term relationships & frequent one night stands just to access housing.”
The project is supported by other services for homeless people, such as Stonewall Housing, Homeless Link and Housing Justice, and is looking to work with LGBTIQ+ support services like Galop and the Albert Kennedy Trust. The Outside Project will aim to be an approachable, accessible mid-point for members of the LGBTIQ+ community who need access to these services.
“We’ll act as a springboard into mainstream services that are already available, making sure that our guests feel safe and comfortable using those services,” says Carla. “We will accompany guests to these services and introduce them to an ally within the team, make sure the services have accessible facilities for trans or non-binary people, and that staff understand our guests’ specific needs. We’ll focus on their queer identity, and the support networks that they need when helping them access mainstream services.”
The bus that The Outside Project is raising money for is a 12-bed tour bus that previously belonged to British rock band Status Quo. “The bus will act as a crisis centre so we can’t tell you where it will be exactly!” says Carla. “It will be in the grounds of a lovely, safe and secure venue. I think people have this perception of us as being parked up at the side of the road, which would be really unsafe!”
“We don’t want to have to have a segregated project for LGBTIQ+ people, we want people to have access to a safe, integrated service.”
“Our long term goal is for advocacy within our community, and changing the sector to make it more accessible – so that one day we won’t need to exist,” Carla explains. “We don’t want to have to have a segregated project for LGBTIQ+ people, we want people to have access to a safe, integrated service wherever they go. Hopefully further down the line we’ll be able to set up a community centre, where we can offer advice and signpost people towards other support organisations.”
The Outside Project aims to be up and running for winter 2017/2018, but they also have plans to take their crisis centre around festivals in the UK next summer. Their aim will be to promote healthy living and wellbeing within the community, as well as a safe, sober space for people to come in for a chat.
“People can come and see us if they don’t feel comfortable, if they’re worried about homophobia or transphobia, or if they feel unsafe in their camping environment,” says Carla. “We want to combat hate crimes and harmful behaviours in these environments for our community.”
What has the support been like for the project?
“We’ve been meeting regularly with a group of organisations since February that really know what they’re doing,” says Carla. “Stonewall Housing has been running for over 30 years supporting our community, and they know a lot about the issues that we face. Housing Justice run winter shelters across the UK, and Homeless Link support the sector and start-up projects helping homeless people.
“Within The Outside Project team, we’re all LGBTIQ+ and have worked in the homeless sector for years as frontline workers. We also have a great understanding or lived experience of homelessness and the various issues our community face.”
Over the course of The Outside Project’s crowdfunding for the tour bus, various groups and organisations have invited Carla and the team to fundraise at their events. “Every time I’ve been to one, I’ve had at least a couple of people come up to me saying that they’ve experienced homelessness as an LGBTIQ+ person, and they felt there was no one there to help them or anywhere to go,” she says. “It’s really emotional, the amount of people that have experienced this. I’ve spoken to managers of bars, performers, all sorts of really confident people who just a couple of years ago were on the streets or sofa surfing. It’s incredibly inspiring to see how well they’re doing, and that they now want to help us. The community have really driven this project and I couldn’t be prouder.”
What can straight allies do to address the over-representation of LGBTIQ+ people in homeless communities?
“For straight allies, I would say to be aware of the environments you’re in. A big issue amongst our community that you can help with is employment and peer support,” recommends Carla. “So think about your workplace, the spaces and circles you socialise in, and consider if they’re safe for the LGBTIQ+ community, and if they are supported… especially when you move out of the city and into smaller towns.
I really think it’s about challenging the heteronormative environment you’re in and saying it’s not good enough to just not shout and scream abuse at people in the street. You have to challenge those people and those ideas, people who you see are mistreating their family, friends or colleagues in a negative way because they’re LGBTIQ+.
“It has a long term effect on people and how they access services in the future, so if they’re experiencing a traumatic event they’re much less likely to express their sexuality or gender identity having experienced homophobia in the past because it’s just not what they feel able to cope with on top of whatever crisis they’re in.”