LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Soon after coming out as gay to his family, 16-year-old Samuel slept over at a friend’s house one night and never returned home, preferring to live with drug dealers, under archways and sofa-surfing than feel excluded at home.
Almost a quarter of young, homeless people are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), according to the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT), which set up Britain’s first emergency safe house for young gay people.
“(I felt) scared and lonely and really annoyed at myself because I had a home really,” said Samuel, who did not wish to use his full name, now aged 26 and working in IT.
“Just after some time away, you build up going back so much in your head, it becomes too big a thing to face.”
Campaigners say LGBT people make up a growing portion of Britain’s homeless population, and face specific threats, from sexual exploitation to mental health issues, highlighting the need for specialized shelters and hostels to support them.
Homelessness has risen in England for more than six years, with 80,000 families in temporary accommodation, government data shows.
As cities around the world grapple with ways to protect LGBT homeless, the Mayor of London agreed in June to fund an LGBT shelter and community space in the capital, which will also provide addiction and mental health services.
Samuel spent more than two years living precariously among the hidden homeless, where his safety was often down to luck, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Other homeless young LGBT people told him they regularly had sex with strangers for a bed, money or sense of affirmation.
“LGBT+ young people in general are vulnerable to older people since all of the usual gay places are for over 18s, and mostly just bars,” he said.
“It puts people in a position where they can’t access any kind of acceptance without the undertone of drinking or sex.”
Although Britain is one of a handful of countries where LGBT people have equal constitutional rights, discrimination and abuse remain rife.
Almost eight out of 10 homeless young LGBT people say coming out to their parents was the main reason they lost their homes, the Albert Kennedy Trust said.
“There’s an assumption that when you come out these days you’ll be accepted by your family, that things have changed,” said Tim Sigsworth, the charity’s chief executive.
“Actually, legislation has changed but social attitudes take longer to catch up.”
LGBT individuals are 14 times more likely to be homeless than straight people, he said, largely due to being “rejected and ejected” from the family home.
Homeless and stigmatized, young LGBT people risk being drawn into the drug-fuelled ‘chemsex’ party scene, trafficked or infected through unprotected sex with multiple partners, campaigners say.
They are often too scared to go into mixed accommodation where bullying can be a problem and may feel uncomfortable staying in religious buildings, homeless charities say.
“There’s just not enough safe accommodation for LGBT people and we need to find a whole different range of solutions,” said Bob Green, head of Stonewall Housing, which provides housing and advice to LGBT people.
“We need to be providing support for people so that they can make a success of their accommodation, people need more than a roof.”
Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org