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22 April 2020

Homelessness charities say “high volume” of LGBT youth at risk during pandemic

With the Covid-19 lockdown ongoing, young LGBT people living in hostile or abusive situations are among the most vulnerable.  

By Samir Jeraj

Several weeks since the UK went into lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19, homelessness charities say they have seen a “high volume” of LGBT youth who are in need of help. An estimated 320,000 people in the UK have nowhere permanent to live, according to the charity Shelter, with young LGBT people facing particular risk of becoming homeless. According to research by Akt, a charity, LGBT youths are estimated to make up a quarter of the young homeless population.

Carla Ecola from the Outside Project, which runs the UK’s first permanent LGBT homeless shelter in London, said the charity is coping with a rise in demand while receiving no extra support compared to the period before lockdown began. “Our centre had to close but the shelter is still open,” Ecola explained, adding that “our community are at a higher risk of homelessness, domestic abuse and hate crime.” The lack of safety nets means LGBT homeless people often have to stay in saunas, sofa surf or book into backpacker hostels to stay off the streets.

The government has put money into housing homeless people, particularly rough sleepers, during the pandemic. It has estimated that over 90 per cent of rough sleepers known to local authorities at the beginning of this crisis have now been made offers of safe accommodation. An extra £3.2m has been made available in targeted funding for councils. Over 1,000 homeless people are currently living in hotels in London through these schemes, but an estimated 900 are still on the streets, with charities reporting significant numbers still needing emergency food aid.

There are an estimated 4,300 rough sleepers in England, but the figure is highly disputed, with numbers likely to be several times greater, according to an investigation by the BBC earlier this year. The Outside Project is currently campaigning to open a hotel provision, which would create 42 additional beds for LGBT people fleeing abuse or who are already homeless.

Tom Copley, London Deputy Mayor for Housing, said the Mayor’s rough sleeping team are working “around the clock to support vulnerable Londoners” into safe accommodation. He added: “This includes members of the LGBTQ+ community, who we know are at greater risk of homelessness and can face particular challenges if they do become homeless.”

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Akt is currently supporting 120 to 130 LGBT youths. Chief executive Tim Sigsworth said the organisation has been getting “an especially high volume of referrals” from young people during lockdown, particularly 16 and 17-year-olds. These are people who are living in “hostile or abusive living situations”, according to Sigsworth. “We are seeing that young people are desperately trying to find somewhere to live or find ways to cope where they are living.”

The organisation has launched an appeal for donations and support from the wider community to support LGBT youth in need. This includes safe accommodation, food, vital resources and “a sense of community, amidst this ostracising time”.

LGBT people have long faced an uphill struggle within the homelessness system. A BBC investigation earlier this year found that one in seven councils were asking young LGBT people to provide letters from their family to “prove” they were homeless, when they are often fleeing violence, and abuse within the family. One in four trans people have experienced homelessness, according to a 2017 report from Stonewall and LGBT people are fourteen times more likely to be homeless than straight and cisgender people.

Sian Berry, a London Assembly Member who investigated youth homelessness for the Assembly, said the risks LGBT youth faced to losing their homes “are only being magnified now”. She is calling for the Mayor of London to give extra support to specialist services for more vulnerable groups. “I know the GLA has so far not had enough new funding from government to support the work we are already doing on rough sleeping and ministers urgently need to step up if we can’t provide the safety nets people need,” she said.

A government spokesperson said: “We are supporting the most vulnerable in society to get through this crisis, including those who do not feel safe staying at home.” The government has put money into domestic abuse services in anticipation of a rise in violence within homes and has launched a public awareness campaign to highlight anyone is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able leave and seek refuge. We are also helping councils to support vulnerable people in their communities. We’ve given them £1.6bn to respond to this national emergency including to provide safe and suitable accommodation for those who would otherwise be sleeping rough.”

Galop runs the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse specialist helpline and can be contacted on 0800 999 5428.

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