Home is a place we should feel safe: what Stonewall Housing has learnt in 40 years supporting LGBTQ+ people facing homelessness and unsafe housing
Stonewall Housing celebrates 40 years of supporting LGBTQ+ individuals facing homelessness and unsafe housing, emphasizing the need for a safe and inclusive home environment for all. Through their services, advocacy, and training, Training Lead Alexandra Duffy sheds light on the challenges and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people and the work towards ensuring every person has a place to call home.
This year, Stonewall Housing marks our 40th birthday – forty years of supporting LGBTQ+ people who are facing homelessness or living in unsafe environments.
We started off a small, grassroots organisation – a handful of people coming together to address LGBTQ+ homelessness. Originally a collective, we set up the first housing association exclusively to meet the needs of lesbians and gay men, and were the first organisation to receive government funding to bridge the gaps in housing provision for the LGBTQ+ community.
Forty years on, we remain a specialist, by-and-for service. As well as providing supported housing, we support LGBTQ+ people of all ages through housing and homelessness advice and advocacy – including our National Advice Line and Live Chat advice service. We also offer mental health advocacy, and support for LGBTQ+ people who are fleeing or who have fled domestic abuse.
As Stonewall Housing’s Training Lead, I work with organisations across the UK to share our frontline experience and the lived realities of the people who come to Stonewall Housing for support.
We still have a long way to go to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ housing issues. I’m often told – ‘we want to better meet the needs of our LGBTQ+ service users, but worry we don’t have the up-to-date terminology’. Or, ‘we don’t actually know what the specific issues facing LGBQ+ people are.’
I’m able to draw on our case studies to highlight how many people, at different life stages, experience family breakdown and insecure housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – for living their life as their authentic self.
These stories highlight the importance of someone being respected and affirmed – for exactly who they are. When we worked with Nadin*, he had been sleeping in his car for weeks – after being outed to his family as bisexual, and forced out of his home with nothing but his car keys and his mobile phone. He had been turned away from his local authority, but when he sought help from our case workers, he felt safe to open up about what had happened to him. It was the first time he’d said the words out loud – “I’m bisexual”. Nadin finally felt like someone was really listening to him without judgement.
LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness, particularly when facing additional intersecting forms of marginalisation, are met with disempowering responses at every turn. That’s why, when we supported Lisa*, a 17-year-old who was kicked out of her house by her Mum, we worked alongside her to explore her housing options and to navigate a complex system. When Lisa’s Mum found out about her new girlfriend, she came home to a barrage of verbal abuse. ‘Mum was saying I’d embarrassed her. That I was ‘wrong’ in the head. That someone like me couldn’t be gay.’ After days of silence, Lisa found a note from her mum telling her she had until the end of the week to leave. When Lisa reached out to us, because of her age, we first worked with her to contact Social Services and create a plan to ensure her safety – but then we supported Lisa and her social worker to ensure that her concerns were heard every step of the way, and that her new place to stay felt safe and secure.
In training sessions, I share stories that our caseworkers have told me about the homophobia and transphobia people are still facing – from their landlords or housemates or the very services they turn to for support. We’ve heard about people being repeatedly misgendered, met with slurs, or told to keep their gender identity or sexual orientation a secret.
We discuss LGBTQ+ experiences of hate crime and harassment – and think about what it means to feel that you are safe and that you belong in your home, neighbourhood, and community. I share stories like that of Tom*, an older gay man in his early 70s who had been sexually assaulted, verbally abused and threatened, had sexual items being posted through his letter box, and had his property damaged. As we see all-too-often, Tom’s Housing Association had not taken his case seriously. We first advocated with Tom’s Housing Association to take accountability and keep him safe, and ultimately worked with Tom to secure safer housing. Training sessions are an opportunity to think about what an LGBTQ+ informed, inclusive, and supportive environment might look like.
I share that we’ve seen an increase in referrals from people who have experienced domestic abuse – whether in a relationship or a family setting – and have seen how the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, with rising rents and bills, have left people feeling trapped in harmful and abusive situations, often where they are unsafe to be themselves. We know that LGBTQ+ people face high levels of abuse, and often experience abusive tactics that are linked to their gender identity or sexual orientation, and particular hurdles when trying to access services. We’re re-launching a full day session on LGBTQ+ experiences of domestic abuse for this reason.
Last year, Stonewall Housing supported over 2,500 people – though we estimate that between 64,000 and 128,000 people might benefit from our support each year.
We will not rest until every LGBTQ+ person has a safe place to call home – which is why it’s so important that people across the homelessness and housing sector demonstrate their solidarity with LGBTQ+ people – all year round.
It might be that you let someone know about our services. There are different ways someone can get in contact with us: as well as contacting our advice line or live chat, they can fill in a self-referral form on our website. An agency can use this form, too, if they are filling it out on behalf of someone else.
You might feel that your organisation could expand its understanding and confidence around LGBTQ+ inclusion. You might be thinking about the ways the service you offer could better support and affirm LGBTQ+ people. We use our expertise to deliver bespoke training packages that empower teams of all sizes to confidently meet the needs of LGBTQ+ people in their workplace, or who are accessing their services. Whether you’re a housing provider, a local authority, working in the property sector or a charity, you can contact us about our training packages today.
Credit: Alexandra Duffy, Training Lead at Stonewall Housing
*Names and other identifying features had been changed.
Date: June 19, 2023 1:29 pm
Author(s): Alexandra Duffy
Categorised in: Equality Diversity & Inclusion