As LGBTQ+ youth homelessness continues to soar, Stephanie Farnsworth examines this silent issue.
While the middle class gay leaders of our community may applaud same sex marriage as our last great battle they are insulting those who have been completely left behind, particularly in the midst of the LGBTQ+ youth homelessness crisis.
‘Crisis’ may seem like a dramatic term but there are several reasons I use it. The fact that anybody could be homeless is a crisis but particularly for those who identify as LGBTQ+ as there are few services which are able and willing to provide appropriate support and advice. This means that LGBTQ+ youths simply have very few ways of being able to get out of poverty. Furthermore, a recent report by the Albert Kennedy Trust found that almost one quarter of all homeless youths identify as LGBTQ+ despite the fact that only around 3-10% of the general population identify as such. This is completely disproportionate and the true figures of LGBTQ+ homelessness are potentially being severely underestimated when youth homelessness is thought to be three to eight times higher than official government figures.
We may be living in a more liberal time than ever before but family rejection is still a leading factor in LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. Legally, expressions of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hatred and/or rejection are classified as hate crimes and yet there is no onus on parents to accept and support their LGBTQ+ children or relatives. It’s seen as their right to reject somebody who is entirely deserving of love and respect. Youths who are rejected have very few rights; in a divorce partners may be entitled to a certain percentage of wealth or assets but young people are regularly turned out of their homes with nothing, simply for who they are. Even when renting LGBTQ+ people can find that they an unprotected legally as discrimination is actually allowed if one lives with a landlord in certain cases.
Legally, expressions of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hatred and/or rejection are classified as hate crimes and yet there is no onus on parents to accept and support their LGBTQ+ children or relatives.
There’s also the risk that while more urban areas are breaking down traditional conservatism, rural areas are being left behind. There’s a great disparity in the treatment of LGBTQ+ youths across the country. I live in the North East of England and have seen the delights of acceptance in certain parts of Newcastle’s city centre but also know well that rural areas — particularly former mining villages — still have a strong culture of masculinity and can often be hostile and intimidating places for LGBTQ+ youths. Specific support services are also often concentrated in cities with little outreach being carried out in the places that need them most due to a chronic lack of funding. One should not have to move away to a new city simply to be able to come out and be accepted.
LGBTQ+ charities are also often dominated by white staff and therefore a white centric culture where little outreach is done to people of colour, particularly if they are from certain religious backgrounds. This means that inevitably LGBTQ+ people of colour are at a higher risk of not being able to obtain support and so if they do become homeless it will be that much harder to get out of poverty.
LGBTQ+ youths who are homeless will often engage in survival sex or sex work. This is why it is imperative that the wider LGBTQ+ community supports sex worker rights. If any aspect of sex work is criminalised the result will be that vulnerable LGBTQ+ homeless youths will not only struggle in poverty but will potentially face arrest and prosecution. Even those who oppose sex work cannot sincerely claim that criminalisation helps anyone; it only targets vulnerable people. LGBTQ+ youths will not stop their sex work activities because of the law; they still need to be able to pay for shelter, food, drink and so will not give up their one source of income. All criminalisation ever achieves is criminalising the vulnerable.
LGBTQ+ youths will not stop their sex work activities because of the law; they still need to be able to pay for shelter, food, drink and so will not give up their one source of income
The Tories may claim they believe in the politics of aspiration (while imposing austerity which has seen homelessness soar) the reality for the overwhelming majority is that once you’re in poverty it is that much harder to get out of. Few realise just how expensive it is to be poor; debts accumulate quickly and rents are extortionate in this country. Savings should not be considered a luxury and yet they have become so with very few being able to give themselves a financial safety net in case something does go wrong. LGBTQ+ youths are most impacted by this due to their lack of employment history and saving possibilities to begin with.
The Tories are also hitting young people with their cuts which particularly leaves LGBTQ+ youths at risk. They will not be included in the new living wage, university grants are being cut which means that choosing to go to university as a way of escaping family life is a much less likely option and most importantly housing benefit for 18-21 year olds is also being scrapped. This means that routes out of an abusive family situation are far fewer. No youth should have to choose between homelessness or abuse.
LGBTQ+ homeless youths also often need to access multiple services. Many have experienced abuse and sexual exploitation and require support with PTSD, depression and other mental health issues, trans youths often need access to healthcare so as to be able to enable their transition and many also need support in figuring out how to achieve true independence after having to leave their family homes. It can be difficult enough to obtain appropriate support at the best of times with services facing cuts and long waiting times, but it is that much harder for it to be delivered to people who have no fixed address. The result is that the most vulnerable in society end up falling through the cracks.
Additionally, different agencies and organisations tend to work against each other rather than in the best interest of the young person. Charities which care for the young person can often find themselves in conflict with the different demands of the police and social services when abuse with a family member has been involved. The different organisations rarely work together efficiently, each having their own clear goals which usually do not account for the others. This can cause great tension and that’s when the organisations do pay an interest; a lot of the time there will be the other end of the spectrum where organisations will pass the buck. In some cases the police may claim a certain abuse issue may be up to social services and vice versa, forgetting that there is a vulnerable young person at the centre of all of this.
No youth should have to choose between homelessness or abuse.
The fight for equality, legally and culturally, is far from over. LGBTQ+ youths are paying the price of the community’s complacency but also of society’s deep rooted rejection still to any LGBTQ+ identity. Equality can only be truly be viewed as achieved when youths aren’t still being rejected by the people who are supposed to love them the most. We’re a long way from achieving that and until it has we must ensure that better services are provided for these youths and greater attention is given to their needs.
The Albert Kennedy Trust’s report can be found here.
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