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London’s first permanent LGBTI homeless shelter struggles to find a home

Written by gaytourism

LGBTI people face some of the highest rates of homelessness compared to other communities. Once a LGBTI person finds themselves homeless they face a life of violence and uncertainty, often ignored by support services.

Ronnie (not his real name) is a 35-year-old who spent many years homeless in London. He witnessed unspeakable violence, which left him too afraid to even sleep.

‘I stayed out…stayed awake and walked around.  Sometimes, I would [go to] the cruising area…napped on the benches…everyone looked out for everyone else. [I] Didn’t sleep at night…seen people have their heads kicked liked a football or pissed on,’ Ronnie said.

The 2016 ‘Still Out There’ report found 25% of London’s homeless population identify as LGBT+. Also, 35% earn less than the living wage lacking which means they can’t afford to pay for suitable living arrangements.

LGBTIQ+ people are more likely to become homeless because of issues such as; family breakdown, physical, verbal and phobic harassment, domestic abuse and sexual exploitation.

Hard to get help

To make matters worse, homeless LGBTI people regularly struggle to get help from mainstream services. They often don’t understand the needs of LGBTI people, but also are not always safe for them.

‘Imagine having the worst time of your life – being beaten up by your family or partner or neighbour and then having to walk down down a dark road you don’t know with a big sign pointing at you screaming your sexuality or gender identity,’ Carla Ecola, founder of The Outside Project.

‘That’s what being queer and homeless feels like & that’s why we’re more likely to hide in bin sheds and stairways and less likely to get picked up by outreach services.

‘The prejudice our community face in society feels 100 times magnified when you are in crisis with nowhere to turn. Our community hide their sexuality or gender identity when homeless which leads to all kinds of emotional, physical and health issues – further trauma.’

The inside of the temporary LGBTI homeless shelter on a bus in Barking. | Photo: The Outside Project

A new hope

But there is light at the end of tunnel for London’s many LGBTI homeless people.

After more than a year of trying to source funding, London will get a permanent homeless shelter for the LGBTI homeless.

The Outside Project teamed up with Stonewall Housing to make the shelter a reality after getting funding from the Mayors Rough Sleeping Innovation Fund.

The permanent shelter comes after a pilot program during the most recent winter season where when an LGBTIQ+ night shelter ran on a repurposed tour bus.

Now, the bus will hopefully open alongside the shelter to offer LGBTI people at risk of rough sleeping.

‘When we re-open we plan to sleep 10 again to start with. We’ll hopefully have the bus with us and be able to open 10 more beds paces as a backpackers place to prevent homelessness,’ Ecola said.

‘A lot of people sofa surf and get into trouble because they don’t feel like they can access commercial male/female dorms.’

Holistic care

‘This will be a mix of cultural and artistic hub, offering a safe daytime refuge & cafe space alongside queer led services, pop-up businesses and co-working space for marginalized groups amongst the LGBTIQ+ community,’ said community centre director Tam Vilbert.

‘Holistic case work, advice, housing and employment support, will be provided by Stonewall Housing’s floating support.’

People using the centre will also be able to access Stonewall Housing’s wider services. They include; a work-ready scheme, social groups and mental health advocacy with the aim of providing support and fostering resilience in order to better equip people in the wider world.

‘Most of our guests came through helplines run by Stonewall Housing, the domestic abuse partnership, Galop & Albert Kennedy Trust,’ Ecola said.

‘People just need to be pointed in the right direction if they are not LGBTIQ+ & come to us – literally every other homeless shelter is set up to cater just for them which is why we need to exist in the first place.’

two people looking at a banner outside that reads the outside project

The Outside Project launching at London Pride. | Photo: Facebook

Why did it take so long?

Since February 2017 when the pilot project finished, The Outside Project, has fundraised and crowdfunded money for the shelter. The Mayor’s Rough Sleeping Innovation Fund helped get the funding over the line, and Ecola is ecstatic.

‘Everyone is so pleased that we received this funding from the Mayor’s office, that he is showing his support for our project. A lot of our volunteers are just quiet people who work in the sector, they’re activists or they’re ex-homeless themselves,’ Ecola said.

The project is looking for a suitable location to house the shelter. The pilot was located in Barking, forcing people to travel the long distance, often in the cold snow.

‘The pilot ran in Barking because that was the only place that offered us a solid space. It still is.’ Ecola said.

‘We have been trying to find space in London for over a year. You would think with all of the empty buildings someone would reach out.

‘There is a double stigma of LGBTIQ+ & homelessness with our project. It’s as as much a taboo within our community as it is outside of it.’

Community support

Crowdfunding is hard work for the volunteers and even with the Mayor’s funding, the shelter needs ongoing financial support.

‘Support from ‘outsiders’ within our own community has been overwhelming and has sustained us since our launch at Pride last year,’ Ecola said.

‘We now need support from the wider community & allies to ensure its future & to fight for the systemic change we need so that projects like this don’t need to exist for the generations coming up behind us.’

The Outside project is hosting an event with Fringe! & People’s Cinema club on 16 August. The event is an exhibition of our ‘Outsider Pride’ action, a collective queer activist exhibition, marketplace & a screening of QUEERCORE.

The group is also taking donations at its JustGiving page for people who are interested in helping.

A poster for queer core event in black and white

The Outside Project is hosting a fundraising event for its homeless shelter. | Photo: Supplied

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