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What don’t we know about LGBTQ+ homelessness (and how you can help us address that)

Dr Edith England (Cardiff Metropolitan University) and Dr Neil Turnbull (Cardiff University) are currently surveying LGBTQ+ people to better understand their housing experiences. In this blog, Edith and Neil highlight the gaps in research on LGBTQ+ homelessness, emphasising the need for more comprehensive data on the percentage of the LGBTQ+ population experiencing homelessness, differences within the LGBTQ+ community, regional variations, and the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

LGBTQ+ homelessness is both over and under-researched. We know a lot about some groups (young people engaged with services, especially those living in areas with high LGBTQ+ populations) but almost nothing about others (trans people, those over 25, rural LGBTQ+ people, and those disengaged from or avoiding services). A lot of our ‘knowledge’ of LGBTQ+ homelessness is conjecture and assumption – that young people are more at risk, that locating services in places like Manchester, Brighton, and London meets the needs of the wider LGBTQ+ population, that LGBTQ+ competent services can run on the model of other homelessness services.

We want to address this. Below, you can find details of how to take part in our population-wide LGBTQ+ Housing and Homelessness Survey. This will yield data that will benefit all researchers in this area. We need this because we do not know…

  1. What percentage of the LGBTQ+ population has experienced homelessness

The often-quoted AKT statistic of 25% of young homeless people being queer has a major methodological flaw – it is based on a sample taken from a disproportionately queer urban centre. It also has other issues. It samples only those experiencing one specific form of homelessness (street homelessness/rooflessness) – but there is good evidence that LGBTQ+ people may be especially likely to experience other forms of homelessness, like sofa surfing, remaining in dangerous/coercive relationships and squatting. It has a relatively small sample size. Finally, like most existing studies of queer homelessness, it looks only at those under 25 – it tells us nothing about what happens next.

  1. How homelessness, and experiences of homelessness, differ within the LGBTQ+ population

Almost all studies on LGBTQ+ homelessness (including our previous studies) have considered one small subsection of the population in detail. These small-scale, often qualitative, studies are vital. Queer experience is complex and nuanced; we lose a great deal when we reduce it to numbers. Further, numerical visibility is a privilege. However, just as the LGBTQ+ population as a whole has a problem with inclusivity – racism, sexism, cissexism, and ableism, to name a few – we lack information about how different groups have different experiences of homelessness. This is not just a question of prevalence – whether some groups are more at risk of homelessness than others – but also what kinds of homelessness different groups experience, the options available to alleviate it, and how it affects them in the long term.

  1. How LGBTQ+ homelessness is different in different areas across the country

Almost all studies of LGBTQ+ homelessness to date have been geographically limited to one area. This is usually a funding outcome – a single local authority (or devolved nation, in the case of homelessness in the Trans Community study) has commissioned the research. The problem is that we don’t know much about how homelessness among queer people is distributed across the country. Some areas have much better provisions than others – are these the areas where LGBTQ+ people at high risk of homelessness live?

  1. What LGBTQ+ people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness want and need

We found in previous studies that safety and a sense of welcome are paramount in encouraging LGBTQ+ people to approach services. Courtesies like using people’s correct names and pronouns, ‘signalling’ mechanisms, like rainbow flags and affirmative posters, and inclusive intake forms all help show LGBTQ+ people that homelessness services want to help and are competent to do so.

The reputation of a service is also critical – people need to be confident that their psychological safety would be a priority. As one young trans man said,

“if I don’t feel like I’m accepted, I’m not safe in myself.”

A lot of LGBTQ+ people we spoke to knew others who had had dismissive or hostile encounters (due to LGBTQ+ identity) of homelessness services, and this was a strong deterrent to them engaging.

What is not so clear is what, exactly, helps LGBTQ+ people feel safe and welcome. While baseline courtesies (using correct names and pronouns, avoiding intrusive and prurient questions), staff training, and ‘window dressing’ to signal inclusivity (e.g. through posters making explicit an organisation’s stance on hate crime) do help, they were also seen as tokenistic if they were not supported by a deeper organisational commitment to LGBTQ+ safety. One man, who participated in the Trans Experiences of Homelessness study, described how he walked past reception one morning in Pride month to see a display of rainbow flags. However, because the staff had not proactively reassured him that his identity was welcomed and valued, this did little to reassure him. Another woman described how unsettled she felt at the staff’s failure to intervene when other hostel residents traded transphobic and homophobic slurs.

But we have also spoken with policymakers and frontline workers who have explained that they want to create friendly, welcoming and inclusive environments but are unsure how. They are, of course, working in an environment of extreme resource shortage. Workers are often precarious and underpaid, working long hours and at risk of violence. Working out how to change services to meet LGBTQ+’s needs, therefore, is complex and requires more information than we have at present. As part of the survey, we explore this further to gain the knowledge needed to improve services.

  1. What happens after LGBTQ+ people experience homelessness

Almost all studies of LGBTQ+ homelessness to date have focused on young people – those under 25. To be clear, youth homelessness is a significant issue. It has long-term detrimental effects on individual and community well-being. Interrupting the trajectory of youth homelessness should be a priority if we want to address LGBTQ+ homelessness. However, it is very likely that homelessness is also high among LGBTQ+ over the age of 25 – among those interviewed for the Homelessness Among Trans People study, most of those over 25 became homeless at least once before the age of 25. Economic precarity and social marginalisation do not stop at age 25.

Further, youth homelessness is well established as a primary cause of later homelessness. We do know that among trans people, around 25% have experienced homelessness at least once, but one in ten have experienced homelessness repeatedly. LGBTQ+ people who come out in later life may also be at elevated risk of homelessness as a result – among those interviewed for the Homelessness Among Trans People study, most of those who became homeless after age 25 had done so after coming out later in life.

Another important question is what happens as LGBTQ+ people age regarding housing. Private rented sector evictions are one of the main driving forces of homelessness. Given that LGBTQ+ people are much less likely to have children than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts, it is a reasonable assumption that they are also less likely to be in social housing and more likely to be in private rented accommodation. This means that they are much more likely to have ongoing housing costs as they move into older age. This puts them at risk not only of actual homelessness but also of inadequate, unaffordable housing.

What can you do to help?

We need baseline information about the housing experiences of LGBTQ+ people to fill in the gaps above. We believe this will be helpful to all researchers in this area, establishing answers to these fundamental questions about the LGBTQ+ housing/homelessness experience.

Our survey takes around 10 minutes to complete and asks questions about demographics, housing and homelessness experiences through the lifetime, and service needs. If you are aged 18+, UK resident and LGBTQ+, please complete the survey.

We are also very interested in talking with other researchers in this area to develop a network of researchers in LGBTQ+ homelessness. Please do get in touch with us – Edith (EAAEngland@CardiffMet.ac.uk) and Neil (TurnbullN1@Cardiff.ac.uk).

 

Date: June 29, 2023 1:49 pm

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