Britain’s Hidden Homelessness Crisis

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Homelessness has undeniably been a growing issue in the UK since 2010.

The homelessness charity Shelter estimated in November 2018 that there are 320,000 people who would be defined as homeless, with an increase of 13,000 in the previous year, and a report from Centrepoint found that 103,000 young people presented themselves to their local authority as homeless in 2017/18.

It is estimated that LGBTI people make up roughly 4-6% of the UK’s population however research found that around a quarter (24%) of young homeless people in the UK identified as LGBT, so how has this happened? And why has nothing been done?

The Causes

In a study by the Albert Kennedy Trust, an organisation who offers support to LGBT young people, or those living in hostile environments, found that the biggest causes were:

  • Young people having their identity rejected by their parents
  • Abuse from family members
  • Exposure to aggression and violence

Now I had a relatively positive response when I came out as a gay man, but to hear that so many young people lose their home and their own family simply because of who they are is nothing but both heartbreaking and enraging. Finding this out begs the question of ‘what’s being done about this?’ The answer does not lie in the actions of local authorities.

The Failure of Local Authorities

For this part, allow me to focus on my own country, Scotland. To understand how local authorities have failed LGBT young homeless people, you need to first understand the “intentionality” element of homelessness.

When a person presents themselves as homeless to their local authority (in Scotland it must be an authority to which they a local connection) they are assessed based on whether or not they were made homeless by an external factor or they caused themselves to be homeless.

This raises a problem, because those LGBT people who had a bad experience coming out to their family will find it difficult to come out to a complete stranger , so instead choose not to disclose their identity, which will lead to them being designated as “intentionally homeless” meaning that the local authority does not have a duty to provide accommodation.

Thankfully, the Scottish Government is running a consultation on changing the intentionality process to only refuse support if the system is being exploited. The same consultation is also looking to remove the local connection requirement.

This is only a part of the problem though, as local authorities simply don’t consider LGBT people in their housing plans. Under Scottish law, local authorities must produce an impact assessment on their housing strategies. After reading through several local housing strategies, including four of Scotland’s seven cities, it seems there has not been a single council who believe their plans for housing will not affect LGBT people at all. In fact, I would not be surprised if councils simply failed to consult LGBT groups.

There is however another factor that may make it difficult to fix the housing system, and that is due to the lack of any official statistic on the number of LGBT people in the country. There was no question on sexual orientation or trans identities on the Scottish census in 2011, and there are no other solutions to measuring the number of LGBT people other than pure estimates. This lack of official statistics makes it difficult for organisations to support LGBT people simply because nobody knows, even roughly, how many there are.

What Should Be Done?

There is no single one-size-fits-all solution to the problems I’ve highlighted, but here is what I believe should be done in order to fix the broken housing system for LGBT young people:

  • Include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity on the census, which would give an idea of how many LGBT people there are.
  • Abolish the local connection requirement for homelessness applications, meaning that organisations who support LGBT homeless people would not have to be present in every local authority.
  • Abolish the intentionality process completely, allowing organisations to establish shelters and hostels without the need for one in each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
  • More being done to support those rejected by their families because of their identity, which would help to reduce the stress and depression that these young people face.

There is a long way to go before any solution would be implemented, and no solution is able to completely eradicate the issues faced by LGBT young people, or indeed to fix the broken housing system in the UK, any solution must surely be better than the current situation.

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