Invisible on the precipice of complete marginalisation. A new report finds that young homeless LGBTQ+ people are being failed by support services that often erase their identities and ignores their experiences.
Content warning: This article discussed severe abuse and trauma
Research conducted by the Albert Kennedy Trust (akt) has shined a light on the experiences of abuse, discrimination, and suffering faced by young LGBTQ+ people. The report paints an explicit picture of adversity and marginalisation, pointing to a lack of understanding and to a break in social safety nets that has only sustained these young people’s homelessness.
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The findings of the LGBTQ+ youth homelessness report
Testimonials contributed to the report speak of rejection and insecurity, both personally and socially. One contributor wrote 'imagine being invisible a thousand times a day… and no one knows your story because you are alone', and another 'when you're rejected because who you are, by the people who are supposed to support you no matter what, it can be really isolating'.
Many of the vulnerable young people surveyed have histories of abuse and trauma; one in six reported that they were forced to commit sex acts against their will by family members, two-thirds said that family members repeatably belittled them, and over six in ten felt threatened in their family home.
Once homeless, the findings showed that LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to reexperience violence, develop substance misuse issues, and be exposed to sexual exploitation more than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.
More than half had experienced abuse while homeless, 92% said that homelessness had a negative impact on their mental health and over half said the same about their physical health, more than one fifth had taken drugs for the first time, and almost one fifth felt like they have to rely on casual sex to find somewhere to stay and 16% engaged in sex work for the same reason.
Concerningly, there also seems to be a lack of awareness over the support available, as only a third of young LGBTQ+ people sought help from their local authority when they were homeless. Instead, the majority relied on their social support networks to sofa surf.
Additionally, mental health, welfare, sexual health, and money advice services were also widely unknown to a vast number of young LGBTQ+ people. As less than a half were aware of mental health support, less than three in ten were aware of sexual health services, and just one in ten were aware of substance misuse services.
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Support services need to shape up and accommodate the LGBTQ+ experience
The absence of adequate support from housing, mental health, and other social support services was glaringly visible in the lived experience of the young people who gave their testimony; demonstrated by 59% who said that they had faced some form of discrimination or harassment while accessing services meant to support them.
The findings also indicated that these supposed social safety nets seemingly lack insights into the complexities of these young people’s lives, because their relationship to their identity and their experiences of abuse and trauma was often glossed over or became incomprehensible to systems built around a more familiar image of familial abuse.
As a spokesperson for akt commented: “It is clear that there is a lack of understanding of the abuse and rejection that LGBTQ+ young people face and that this is the primary reason for why young people become homeless. As the report evidences, overall, very few young people sought support from their local authority or were aware of the housing - or general - support that was available to them when homeless.”
“Often young people will be returned home by local authorities to very unsafe and abusive environments or asked to provide evidence that their families or guardians have kicked them out. We would not see this in cases of intimate partner abuse. Moreover, young people are often not classed as meeting priority need criteria or have been regarded as having made themselves intentionally homeless.”
Only around a third of LGBTQ+ young people felt safe disclosing their identity to services meant to provide relief, and almost the same said that they had been asked about their identity. Moreover, inappropriately, everyday experiences of misgendering and deadnaming when accessing services served as illustrations of a system that contains arguably both incompetent and discriminatory elements.
To improve standards of service, the spokesperson for akt said that: “To us, this clearly demonstrates that monitoring and being given the opportunity to disclose your identity makes young people feel safe to express it. However, it’s also critical people don't feel forced to disclose their identity, and if they are asked that it's in an appropriate manner and environment.”
And regarding mental health services: “A large part of it is knowing where to look. Less than half of the LGBTQ+ young people we spoke to were aware of mental health support available to them, and this figure dropped even lower for disabled LGBTQ+ young people and LGBTQ+ young people of colour… It’s essential for support services to ensure that they're engaging marginalised young people in their marketing and outreach efforts. If someone doesn’t know that a support service is available to them in the first place, how can they access it?”
The recommendation contained in the report highlighted the critical role of language and targeted messaging in creating a more inclusive environment for young LGBTQ+ people, and especially for young people of colour and trans people.
The spokesperson for akt added: “It’s really important to so many LGBTQ+ young people that workers from support services aren’t just inclusive of them but understand their circumstances and what they’ve been through. For many, this might mean not feeling comfortable working with a service unless some of its caseworkers have specific knowledge or specialised services to tailor for the community. Ensuring staff have had adequate training is a first step to respond to this, but it’s also one of the many reasons that diverse lived experience among service delivery staff has huge benefits for service users.”
“Awareness training for all staff is a great first step. While the service delivery team will be the ones engaging with the young people, their journey with a service includes who they meet at the door, the language they see you use on your website and social media and more. It's vital to make sure an entire staff team understands the best and most inclusive way to support LGBTQ+ young people or anybody from a marginalised background.”
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“The pandemic has further increased the sense of urgency to improve the support that is available to LGBTQ+ young people”
The report's findings are extremely timely as Covid-19 has increased the levels of homelessness amongst LGBTQ+ people, with akt experiencing a 118% increase in new referrals from April- August last year compared to pre-pandemic levels. The spokesperson explained that the increase in new referrals was inevitably due to lockdown restrictions that limited the less visible aspects of homelessness, such as sofa surfing.
Currently, eviction of tenants and homeowners remain on hold, although the government intends to lift the eviction ban after the 31st of May. And once the prohibition on evictions is lifted, akt predicts that they will see more young people having to secure - insecure accommodation.
And consequentially, the social safety net of services has never been more vital, so housing, mental health, financial, and addiction services will need to actively do more to raise awareness of the help available, and support those young LGBTQ+ people facing homelessness and the mental health problems that arise from that insecurity.
“The pandemic has further increased the sense of urgency and has made the findings from the report even more salient.”
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and you feel you are at breaking point and need urgent help contact 999 if you need emergency care, or contact your local GP surgery and ask for an emergency appointment.
The housing and homelessness charity Shelter believes everyone should have a home. For advice and support, you can chat to an expert housing adviser online, find local services through their website, or call their urgent helpline.