First of it's kind research into LGBT+ youth homelessness in Ireland recommends LGBT+ only shelters

Through extensive research, the report by Focus Ireland, BeLonG To and UCD, shares the experience of 22 young LGBT+ people who have experienced homelessness in Ireland.

LGBT+ homelessness Ireland silhouette of young person against an orange sky with leaveless trees in background

Parental rejection of LGBT+ young people’s sexual orientation and gender identity can be a key trigger in the decision to leave home and can subsequently lead to homelessness according to a new research report released today by Focus Ireland and BeLonG To Youth Services.

The LGBT+ participants (aged 18 to 30) also revealed a deeply concerning connection between homelessness and mental health problems as well as complex experiences of stigma and shame.

“It was horrible. It was terrible. I felt like nothing. Yeah, I was drinking a lot. I was just in the middle of this gigantic spiral of shame”. (Participant 18)

The research study, the first of its kind in Ireland, which was published today (Friday, September 18), was carried out by Professor Michelle Norris and Dr Aideen Quilty of University College Dublin on behalf of Focus Ireland in partnership with the national LGBT+ youth organisation BelonG To Youth Services It involved interviews with young homeless people who identified as LGBT+ as well as a number of policy makers in the homeless sector.

The report identified a high degree of fear and anxiety among the young people when engaging with homeless services. The majority of 22 young people interviewed were unwilling to enter a space, such as a hostel, where they feared that they would encounter a lack of understanding or blatant homophobic and transphobic attitudes among both other service users and staff.

“But there is a very grim fucking feeling about, and particularly the first experience… And it’s just the kind of sense of, ‘God, this is a disaster. Like I have massively messed up'”. (Participant 12)

On the other hand, the research showed an overwhelmingly positive impact for those who did access frontline services, such as key workers. However, some young people interviewed also reported instances of less positive interactions with both staff and clients of homeless services.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said that this vital report will assist the organisation in responding approriately to the needs of “young people who are doubly marginalised”:

“We are in a housing and homeless crisis with many dimensions, and to bring this to an end it is vital to fully understand the range of challenges that people face.

“Given the scale of the challenge it is easy for the experiences of this group of young people to go unheard. We need to have solid data which clearly outlines why young people in the LGBT+ community become homeless and what could be done to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

“A key lesson is we need changes in training and practice to ensure that services are LGBT+ friendly and can respond to the specific needs of each person.”

“You start to hate yourself because of the situation you’re in. And hiding that you’re gay, hiding that you’re homeless. It’s difficult”. (Participant 1)

The young people interviewed expressed a dual process of self-imposed silencing and secrecy in relation to their LGBT+ identity and homelessness experiences. This ‘double closet’ is instructive for the greater understanding of the difficulties faced by LGBT+ youth.

At this morning’s launch, research co-author Dr Aideen Quilty said that the recruitment for this research presented difficulties in that many who have experienced homelessness (ie. couch surfing, living in Airbnb’s) do not identify with being homeless.

“As the first qualitative study of LGBT+ youth homelessness in Ireland it is important that we listen to and hear carefully the voices of these courageous young people. Their powerful stories highlight significant levels of resilience in the face of challenging, distressing and damaging experiences of homelessness. We have a responsibility to ensure their stories matter and that we respond through targeted, appropriate actions.”

“Even before I got homeless, I thought the same. Sleeping bags, most on drugs or whatever. It’s so different”. (Participant 1)

Co-author Professor Michelle Norris said that in developing the reccomendations, they looked to existing services in Australia and the US but that the most vital step is prevention:

“The report demonstrates that LGBT+ young adults face additional risks of becoming homeless due to conflict with parents and caregivers regarding sexuality and gender identify, in addition these young adults face additional barriers to accessing services when they do become homeless and building strong relationships with service providers. Therefore, it is critical that LGBT+ youth homelessness is address in the planned Youth Homeless Strategy’.”

“I just think it will be a home for people that just don’t have it, and not a home where you have to go and pretend that you’re straight and you’re not trans, where you have to hide your body or your voice or your partners… just a place to exist at any point they need to do that at”. (Participant 5)

Moninne Griffith, CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services said that while Ireland has come a long way, levels of homophobia and transphobia are still high and can result in homelessness for some LGBT+ youth:

“The need for information on homelessness among LGBT+ young people is particularly urgent in light of the rise in youth homeless in Ireland in recent years. Coming out can still lead to LGBT+ youth being made homeless In our frontline services, we witness a significant number of LGBT+ youth living without a permanent home and surviving by sleeping on friends’ sofas, squatting or staying in other insecure or unsafe places.

“This group are even more difficult to identify and consequently are often referred to as the ‘forgotten homeless’ or ‘hidden homeless. In light of this research, the ‘Youth Homelessness Strategy’, committed to in the Programme for Government 2020, should include a ‘homelessness prevention’ pillar with specific reference to the particular risks and pathways into homelessness which LGBT+ youth are likely to experience. Nobody should have to choose between being who they are and having a safe place to live.”

“The reason she kicked me out at that time, was because I had come home wearing makeup, after going out on a date with a guy and she went crazy that night. Went upstairs. When I came back down the next day, she basically just told me to leave”. (Participant 5)

At this morning’s launch, GCN contributor Chris O’Donnell, shared their insight as someone who has experienced homelessness. “Rarely have I witnessed such strength,” speaking about the resilience and tenacity of LGBT+ young people.

The main findings in the report include the following:

  • Young people who are LGBT+ not only experience all the interpersonal, familial and intrapersonal problems of the young population-at-large (including leaving care, family breakdown and the shortage of affordable accommodation) but also have a range of other challenges associated with their sexuality and gender identity. In particular the complex experiences relating to coming out and/or transitioning create an increased risk of homelessness and vulnerability within homelessness.
  • The young people’s stories and experiences captured in the research also highlighted the sobering reality that – despite significant progress in Ireland – homophobia and transphobia persist.
  • Many young LGBT+ people without a home, avoid homeless services and live in a precarious world of ‘sofa surfing’ with friends and acquaintances.
  • Many of the participants were still in precarious accommodation or formal homelessness but these young people still showed exceptional levels of resilience through a range of agentic strategies

Recommendations

This study also made a series of recommendations, the first of which is that the issue of LGBT+ homelessness should be included in the new Youth Homelessness Strategy, which the Government promised in their Programme for Government.

The report also proposed a range of measures which would reduce the risk of young LGBT+ people becoming homeless in the first place, including more mediation services and training on gender issues for family mediators and other youth workers.

The report also recommended a number of measures to make homeless services more accessible and supportive for young LGBT+ homeless people, including branding for ‘LGBT+ friendly spaces’ where staff have received appropriate training.

The report also recommended that the Department of Housing should establish an independent review group to look at the way that all data on homeless is collected and published and that this group should also look at how more reliable data on LGBT+ homelessness can be collected, will respecting the privacy of people who are homeless.

The full report is available to read here.

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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