OPINION: Helping LGBT+ homeless young people means addressing their specific needs

by Natasha Kennedy and Matt Horwood | Albert Kennedy Trust
Tuesday, 3 December 2019 10:00 GMT

A message of hope is seen at Pink Dot, an annual event organised in support of the LGBT community, at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As many British adults still feel uncomfortable raising LGBT+ children, they are at higher risk of homelessness

Natasha Kennedy is the policy officer and Matt Horwood is the assistant director of communications at akt, a British charity that supports LGBT+ young people who are at risk of, or have experienced, homelessness

LGBT+ young people are disproportionally affected by homelessness, with 1 in 4 young people experiencing homelessness identifying as LGBT. Of this, 77% cite parental ejection, rejection or abuse as the main reason for their homelessness.

This emphasises the need for safe housing for LGBT+ young people, as many do not have the security net of family support to fall back on.

Many British adults still feel uncomfortable about raising a child who is LGBT+. Over a quarter of UK adults disagreed that they would feel “proud” to have an LGBT+ child, according to research akt conducted with YouGov.

Our understanding that most LGBT+ young people leave home due to familial breakdown is corroborated by the result that one in ten adults would feel uncomfortable living at home with their child if they came out as LGBT+.

There is also a broader issue of acceptance beyond safe housing. More than one in ten people would not want their child to bring home a same-sex partner. And one in five would worry about how family members would respond to them having an LGBT+ child.

All in all, this is a rather sad state of affairs for LGBT + young people who can’t find the support and acceptance they seek at home, causing them to leave and put themselves at risk of substance misuse, sexual exploitation and long-term trauma while they are homeless.

It is because of this discomfort or danger while living at home, that LGBT+ youth homelessness needs to be recognised as its own specific issue, with the ways that we address it improved too.

As we are in the midst of an election season, all parties should consider the needs of LGBT+ young people experiencing homelessness.

Lawmakers need to make necessary changes to policy that currently fails to recognise the specific needs of LGBT+ young people experiencing homelessness.

This can be broken down into preventative action, ways to correct the policy of mainstream homelessness and housing services, and ensuring that private landlords are more inclusive of LGBT+ young people.

Firstly, prevention – by which we mean preventing a cycle of homelessness that is easy to fall into, but hard to escape.

This can be addressed by housing, health, education and other professionals, who should respond to specific issues LGBT+ young people face - such as substance misuse, survival sex, and the fact that gay men and trans women are at a higher risk of HIV exposure.

Housing associations should also record LGBT+ young people accessing their services. Currently up to 40% of mainstream providers do not record the sexuality and gender identity of those using their services.

Establishing mandatory monitoring of sexuality and gender identity is a simple policy change that can help tackle the cycle of homelessness.

It means that housing and homelessness services can ensure that they can both identify the level of, and appropriately manage, the need among their client base, while taking consideration specific needs that may have previously been overlooked.

Finally, when addressing how LGBT+ young people can be protected and safe when entering the private rented sector, it is critical not only that the Local Housing Allowance rates should be set to cover the full cost of reasonably priced, low-cost accommodation across private rented accommodation.

It is also vital that there is also a standard upheld by landlords through the establishment of a ‘Best Landlords Register’, to protect LGBT+ tenants from homophobic, biphobic or transphobic eviction or rent hikes if they were to be ‘outed’.

LGBT+ young people could also benefit from being matched with housemates who won’t put them further at risk.

It is important, especially in winter, to recognise the role we all play in tackling the issue of LGBT+ youth homelessness.