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It can be rough at home if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans kid. Sometimes leaving seems like the best option.
Unfortunately, many of the kids who strike out on their own under these circumstances end up on the streets.
In the US, studies indicate that about 40 percent of all young people accessing homeless services identify as LGBT. In the UK, a recent study found that a quarter of young homeless people are LGBT.
LGBT youth are probably overrepresented on Dublin’s streets too. But we don’t really know.
Back in 2013, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon told the Oirechtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that LGBT people are highly represented among Ireland’s homeless and require “a targeted response”.
That prompted David Carroll, director of BeLonG To, a national organisation for LGBT young people, to demand that the government take LGBT youth homelessness seriously, research what was going on, and come up with a national response.
That was two years ago. There hasn’t been a study yet.
The Path to Homelessness
Homelessness is a bigger problem among the LBGT youth in Ireland than many people realise, says Gillian Brien, manager of BeLonG To’s youth services in Dublin.
In many cases, it’s down to a lack of acceptance of their sexual orientation or gender at home, says Brien.
Those who make their way to Ireland’s more cosmopolitan capital city in hopes of finding acceptance can struggle to keep a roof over their head once they arrive.
Two of the main factors pushing young LGBT people into homelessness are the same ones affecting so many other people in Dublin: rising rents and reduced social-welfare payments, says Brien.
Since January 2014, 18-to-24-year-old job seekers only receive €100 a week. If they don’t have families supporting them, that’s not going to go far in paying for food, rent and other expenses.
A Low Priority?
Once homeless, young LGBT people have few places to get help. Homeless services are overwhelmed, and ill-equipped to deal with their unique sets of mental-health problems.
“It’s best to accommodate people with similar issues in the same setting,” says Francis Doherty of Peter McVerry Trust. That’s because it’s easier to tailor services for them, to help them get back on their feet.
But as the numbers of people seeking access to emergency accommodation skyrockets, homeless service providers are struggling to do even the basics.
“The primary objective at the minute is just making sure that we have enough accommodation and homeless services for people that need it,” says Doherty. “We are not able to break it down into niches or specific areas as much as we’d like to, unfortunately.”
Based on her outreach work, Brien says it appears that the number of homeless LGBT youth is on the rise, and they need a safe place to go.
With no homeless service that specialises in the needs of young LGBT people, all they are left with is the city’s homeless hostels, which tend to cater to people struggling with addiction issues.
Says Brien: “They’d ask, ‘This young man, does he have a drug issue?’ And we’d say, ‘No he’s actually a straight-A student in school, it’s just because of his sexual orientation, he’s been asked to leave the family home.’”
Generally, she says, those who provide the emergency accommodation say it’s not safe to put these often young men in dorms with drug users. BeLonG To agrees.
The Couch Surfers
Where the government has failed, others have stepped in.
“What’s definitely happened over the last two years is LGBT young people have come together and provided a safety net for their peers,” says Brien.
When BeLonG To cannot find any suitable housing for homeless LGBT young people, their peers will ask friends in the community if anyone has a couch available for a needy young person. Someone always steps forward with a couch to crash on.
“I’ve never seen a population of young people come together and be so resilient and supportive of each other,” says Brien.
But the resilience of the LGBT community is a bit of a double-edged sword.
While their informal support for one another keeps young LGBT people off the street, it also keeps them off the Dublin Region Homeless Executive’s radar.
Brien and her BeLonG To colleagues think this informal support network allows the government to treat the issue with less urgency. Which is why they are still searching for money from the government to conduct research to put some numbers to the issue.
They believe that the government won’t act until there are numbers documenting the extent of the problem.
“If we had the money to hire a researcher, you would see the levels of homelessness among this community,” Brien says. “I think it’s only then would there be a reaction around providing a safe home for LGBT young people.”
For Doherty, of the Peter McVerry Trust, solving this problem is about about pinpointing why people are becoming homeless in the first place.
In the bigger picture, he thinks raising the rent supplement is key. But he also suggests that if they get a better understanding of how LGBT homelessness comes about in the first place, they may be able to prevent it through better outreach to families.
For Brien, of BeLonG To, an emergency shelter that caters to the needs of LGBT youth is crucial. A safe space similar to the Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK, perhaps.
That organisation caters specifically to homeless LGBT 16-to-25-year-olds. It joined forces with housing advocacy groups in the UK to create the “Purple Door” housing project, offering safe houses for young LGBT people rejected by their families.
The project gives young people places to stay, counselling, and career advice to help them get set up and become independent.
Brien says she and her BeLonG To colleagues will continue to lobby the government for such a service.
“If you support these young people and just give them somewhere to live, they will finish their studies go get qualifications and get jobs,” she says.