The past year has revealed what those working in the housing and homelessness sectors have always known: where there is real political will, we have the power to tackle homelessness.
During the pandemic, the Everyone In scheme and subsequent programmes demonstrated that the state can rapidly respond to homelessness. While these efforts were largely successful, they primarily supported rough sleepers and left significant gaps in provision for hidden homelessness, which disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ young people that AKT supports. The same urgency with which rough sleeping was addressed during the pandemic must now be applied to tackling hidden homelessness.
AKT supports LGBTQ+ young people between the ages of 16 and 25 who are facing homelessness and abuse or living in a hostile environment. The charity helps them into safe homes, employment, education and training. Of the young people we support, 77 per cent become homeless after being kicked out by their parents or caregivers after coming out to them. AKT’s recently published LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness Report found that half of the LGBTQ+ young people surveyed feared that expressing their LGBTQ+ identity would lead to eviction. Moreover, one in six had been forced to commit sexual acts against their will by family members before becoming homeless. While the survey did not request further detail on this question, this form of abuse is often excused as “conversion therapy”, which is still legal in the UK.
There are significant barriers for LGBTQ+ young people seeking support. Over half have faced some form of discrimination or harassment while accessing support services. Worryingly, only a third sought support from their local authority when they were homeless.
Covid-19 has seen increased levels of homelessness among LGBTQ+ young people. AKT saw an 118 per cent increase in new referrals to services from April to August 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. AKT usually provides services in the north-west, north-east, Bristol and London, but due to the increase in national referrals, it now offers remote support to young people across the country. Once the “ban” on evictions is lifted this summer, and the true economic fallout of Covid-19 is felt, we will inevitably see even more young people finding themselves without a home.
In the absence of the government implementing uniform mandatory monitoring of sexual orientation and gender identity in publicly commissioned housing services, there is no real way to determine how many LGBTQ+ young people are currently homeless. Only 35 per cent of LGBTQ+ young people who have accessed a service while homeless were asked to provide information about their gender identity and sexual orientation. Thus, AKT is calling on the government to require all housing providers to collect this information, so we can start to accurately evidence need. Without this data, LGBTQ+ youth homelessness will continue to be viewed as a marginal issue.
AKT’s report also found that just one-third of LGBTQ+ young people felt safe to disclose their gender identity and sexual orientation to service providers. We therefore also need support services to create inclusive environments where young people feel safe to reveal this information.
To alleviate LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, the government must adopt a specific homelessness strategy for this group, one that also recognises the challenges faced by further marginalised groups, such as LGBTQ+ young people who are people of colour, trans or disabled.
LGBTQ+ youth homelessness must also be considered in the Government Equalities Office LGBT Action Plan’s commitments around wider homelessness experienced by the community. This would recognise the unique circumstances upon which young people become homeless, namely through familial abuse and rejection.
Of course, we also need to see the government increase investment in social housing and ensuring shared accommodation is genuinely affordable to prevent young people from being trapped in a cycle of homelessness. Furthermore, investment in emergency housing that is LGBTQ+ inclusive is also urgently needed.
Local authorities and the housing and homelessness sector also have a critical role to play in improving the support available to LGBTQ+ young people. Young people often face obstacles when seeking housing assistance from their local authority, sometimes not being classed as priority need or viewed as having made themselves intentionally homeless. This is often predicated on a lack of understanding of familial abuse and rejection, which results in many young people becoming homeless. When establishing priority need and determining intentional homelessness, local authorities need to consider the particular vulnerabilities of LGBTQ+ young people. This may include their experiences of homophobic and transphobic harassment, familial abuse, and mental and physical harm.
As we navigate a post-Covid landscape, we must do better for LGBTQ+ young people, with an increased focus on the discrimination that LGBTQ+ young people who are people of colour, trans and disabled face while homeless. No young person should have to choose between a safe home and being who they are.
Jo Bhandal is campaigns, policy and research lead at LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity AKT.
You can read the report here: https://www.akt.org.uk/report.