Homeless trans people are not getting the help they need

 

 

John* was in the early stages of medical transition. Deciding to live openly as a trans man, after many years of deliberating, had caused his marriage to break down and compromised access to his child. These events led to serious mental health repercussions for him.

When John was interviewed for a new Shelter Cymru research study, he was living primarily in his van in rural Wales. He’d been homeless for nearly two years.

Despite having several decades of employment history he was working casual hours and trying hard to get a better-paid job – but none of his interviews had yet led to a job offer. He hadn’t told his employer about his trans status, believing that it would cost him work.

He had also not approached local authority homelessness services for help. Partly this was because he was under the impression that he wouldn’t be eligible for assistance as he was working a few hours a week.

He also had serious reservations about how he would be treated: like many other trans people, he worried that presenting to services would be an unpleasant experience in which his gender would be scrutinised and questioned.

Shelter Cymru’s new report, authored by PhD researcher Edith England, found that around half of the trans people interviewed had not used homelessness services despite clearly being homeless, sometimes over protracted periods.

The study, believed to be one of the largest datasets of homeless trans people in the UK, found that concerns over safety were a key factor keeping trans people from accessing help.

As well as sharing homelessness risk factors with LGBTQ+ people as a whole, such as family rejection, the study found that two additional factors existed for trans people.

First, relationship breakdown was an issue for trans people of all ages, often compounded by abuse.

Second, trans people often became homeless as a result of economic insecurity, with loss of employment especially associated with coming out as trans.

People who were accessing formal support for transitioning socially, legally and/or medically often found that maintaining access became extremely challenging once they were homeless.

But despite trans people’s fears about using homelessness services, the study found that some people who did use services had positive experiences. The overall picture was of services that want to help trans people, even though staff were not always aware of the best way to do this.

One solution that emerged was the need for specialist training for frontline staff – not just standard equalities training.

Trans people also expressed a strong preference for LGBTQ+ specific – or better yet, trans-specific – accommodation and support services, not only for young people but across the lifespan. Although this was seen as the ideal solution, there’s also a need for mainstream services to be accessible to trans people. Local authority service commissioners need to consider how this can be achieved in a way that is flexible and person-centred, rather than a generic one-size-fits-all approach.

John saw employment as his route out of homelessness. But repeated knockbacks from job interviews were taking a toll on his confidence: ‘Obviously I look good on paper because I’m getting interviews but I’m just not getting the work,’ he said. ‘And it’s quite gutting really, and I don’t know whether it’s because there’s something about me personally.

‘It could be because I’m trans, it could be because when they get my CV and they see a man’s name and they think this is going to be a man and then I turn up and they look at me and they think this isn’t a man.

‘It could be that it isn’t discrimination, it could be that there’s always a better candidate. But it starts to feel like, when you’re not ever getting a job, it starts to feel like it’s something personal. Especially when you’re always getting interviews and then you’re not getting a job.’

 

* Name changed to protect anonymity

Grenfell Tower – Two years on, how should Wales respond?

By Paul Bevan

Today marks two years since the shocking and tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, in which 72 people died and more than 70 others were injured. The impact of the tragedy became even more alarming as, very quickly, we learnt that the fire’s colossal impact was largely avoidable, had different cladding and fire measures been in place.

The sense of despair and anger reminded us so vividly of the Aberfan disaster in 1966 in which 116 children and 28 adults died – a tragedy which, like Grenfell Tower, could have been avoided.

In Wales, following the events of two years ago, social housing providers instigated work to assess the fire resistance of their properties. On a wider scale, Welsh Government established a Building Safety Expert Group which reported on improving the safety of residential buildings across Wales in the report, ‘A Road Map to Safer Buildings in Wales’.

We welcomed the immediate response to the report by Julie James AM, Housing and Local Government Minister, when, in April this year, she announced, ‘I will reflect on the group’s recommendations but one recommendation I will accept here and now is that we promote the retro-fitting of sprinklers. Hard evidence supports sprinklers’ effectiveness in preventing fatalities so I am committed to looking at how we can further promote retro-fitting in high-rise buildings across sectors.’

Although this is a welcomed step towards improving safety, the Grenfell Tower fire has come to symbolise something much more deep-rooted than questions about fire safety and building regulations. For every high-rise tenant wondering whether a similar tragedy could happen to them, there are many more who simply cannot find a home in their community. There are those who are battling to keep a roof over their heads or are sleeping rough on our streets.

The Grenfell Tower fire has come to represent how we have failed people in most need in our society – those in need of the most basic of human requirements: the need for access to shelter, a place where we feel safe and which we can call home.

This terrible tragedy, if nothing else, should commit us to doing everything we can to ensure it never happens again. A big part of that process should be to embed into Welsh legislation the right to adequate housing.

We would urge the Minister and Welsh Government to be courageous and make a lasting difference for current and future generations. A right to adequate housing can bring safety and security to everyone in Wales – now is the time to ensure that we can all have affordable, good quality and safe housing.

Priority need is an admission of failure

 

The Welsh Government has commissioned an important piece of work to look at the impact and consequences of amending or even abolishing the priority need test in Welsh homelessness legislation – John Puzey considers the test and the consequences of not abolishing it.

When the Homeless Persons Act was first introduced in 1977 the inclusion of the priority need test was an admission of scarcity; now, 42 years later, it’s an admission of failure.

The test was to ensure that people with children, or who were in some way vulnerable, would, unless they were found intentionally homeless, get a secure permanent home. There were not enough secure permanent homes to meet the needs of all homeless people as well as those on the waiting list, so it was a device to ration access to people considered in most need. If you were not in priority need, forget it – it was a winner takes all system.

We changed that in Wales a few years ago with the introduction of the first Welsh Housing Act. This new law requires that everyone facing or experiencing homelessness must get help from local authorities, whether you are in priority need or not. But priority need hasn’t gone. Yes, it has been pushed down the decision making process to a later point, but it’s still there, used as the final rationing card if all else has failed, and many people are being failed.

There are clear issues with this. What happens to people where the prevention work has not worked and who are not in priority need – perhaps, ironically, some of the most vulnerable people? How much, even sub-consciously, does the knowledge that a household may or may not be in priority need affect the effort and quality of the prevention and alleviation work? How much energy and time goes into attempting to prove someone is not vulnerable and how consistent are the decisions across Wales?

But ultimately the very existence of priority need means we have failed. We have failed in the last 42 years to ensure that there are enough homes for people who are homeless and those on waiting lists living in inadequate housing. Rationing is normally introduced for an emergency; this one has been going on for four decades!

That’s why we have to end priority need and extend the full re-housing duty to everyone who is homeless. We have to do it in a planned way, in a way that ensures the homes and support, if needed, is put in place, but we have to do it. The very commitment to doing it can drive increased social housing and improve other policies and practices such as allocations and evictions. It’s a pity this possibility was not included in the recently launched affordable homes review, but we have now, with the priority need review, an opportunity of making it clear what the continued unacceptable consequences of doing nothing are.

So we need an end point, a point when the emergency ends, when rationing ends, with milestones on the way as new groups of vulnerable people are given the hope and right to a home. What about starting with single under 35-year-olds, what about people sleeping rough?

We need a commitment to a direction of travel and a year when we arrive. Let’s not make it too far in the future because every day that goes by, homeless people across Wales are being told they are not in priority need, and that there is nothing else that can be done.

Ending homelessness, not managing it

 

Just over a year ago Shelter Cymru researchers interviewed 100 street homeless people in three parts of Wales. The results of that study were stark: people were literally trapped on the streets, partly by their own ill health and partly by the inability of services to reach out and offer the right kind of help.

Last week we spent some time in one of the three areas speaking to people sleeping rough to see how we could help and what, if anything, has changed.

In many ways, the stories we heard were the same. People told us of frustration with the system; difficulties chasing homelessness applications and gathering all the evidence that councils said people needed to produce, such as forms of ID or letters from the GP. We heard about the difficulty of trying to battle addiction while street homeless, with limited treatment services available.

We heard from people who’d been excluded from hostels and from people who were afraid of going into large-scale emergency accommodation. We also saw first-hand the work that’s taking place on the front line and heard from professionals how frustrating it can be to work with such a complex system.

We heard from professionals and homeless people, and what was shockingly clear was that what we are currently offering is not enough.

People are often expected to move through a complex system of different types of emergency accommodation before they are able to get a room in a hostel. They often don’t know from one day to the next whether they’ll have a space that night. We heard how destabilising this is for people and it was explained to us how a tent offers more stability and certainty than a space on the floor in emergency accommodation.

Rough sleeping is the most visible and acute form of homelessness, but Wales is experiencing high levels of homelessness of all types including people living in temporary accommodation, people sofa-surfing, and many more living in insecure housing situations that could easily lead to homelessness.

So what does this tell us? We need change… a big change. We need to make sure that we are offering people stable and secure homes; and we need to provide the right support at the right time.

We need to build social housing – especially one- and two-bed homes, for which there is massive demand.

We need to get services working together in a joined up way so that evictions are genuinely a last resort and when they do happen, they don’t lead to homelessness.

For people with complex unmet needs, we know that Housing First works. This has been done elsewhere successfully and is starting to take off in Wales but we need it at scale. The biggest argument against Housing First is cost: however we know it saves money elsewhere, such as the NHS. There still hasn’t been an assessment of what it would cost to meet the full scale of need in Wales, but we are talking about hundreds, not thousands of households.

We also need to learn from services within Wales that achieve high success rates by rapidly rehousing people into their own homes, rather than pushing everybody through the hostel system.

Because of welfare reform and austerity, it is harder for homeless people to find homes than it has been for many years. This situation was not created within Wales, but we have the tools to address it. We should be aiming to end homelessness, not merely to manage it.

How it feels to use housing services

 

A recent exercise undertaken by Shelter Cymru’s Take Notice project shows why it is important that service providers make a continual effort to listen to the views of real people.

Is there a better way to find out what’s being done well in homelessness services and what needs to be improved, than by asking the people who actually use those services?

Over a three week period in August and September, Take Notice project members visited four different housing service providers in Swansea, posing as mystery shoppers using scenarios based on their own personal experiences of homelessness.

They carefully documented their feelings about these visits, providing a unique insight into the feelings of people using our services; one that has been captured through the eyes of people with direct personal experience of housing crisis.

Take Notice members were asked to look at the initial welcome that a person receives when visiting a housing provider, and how accessible the premises and therefore the service is for people.

Psychologically informed environments and trauma informed approaches continue to be emerging agendas in homelessness services. The physical environment and first impressions of a service are important as they will set the tone for the ongoing relationship between service user and provider.

Evidence-based design stresses the impact of the environment on our well-being and behaviour. We wanted to see to what extent things such as comfort, colour, light and space had been considered in the organisations we visited. We also wanted to find out the extent to which mystery shoppers felt treated with respect and whether staff were interested in their individual circumstances.

Ideally we hoped to find that Swansea housing and homelessness providers were putting the person at the centre of their service and treating each person who approached them compassionately. In total 21 mystery visits were made which allowed some consistent themes to emerge from the exercise.

The positives
Take Notice members felt that the services were easy to find and that waiting times were minimal. They generally felt that the services were brightly decorated and welcoming and where this wasn’t the case, they didn’t hesitate to point out the difference that this would have made in terms of feeling relaxed and welcome as they walked through the door.
More importantly, the majority of visitors felt that their enquiries were handled sensitively and respectfully almost all of the time. They felt listened to; they felt they were given time to explain their situations; and they felt they knew what would happen next.

Room for improvement
Take Notice members told us that they wanted to see significantly better disability access and language accessibility. There were issues with privacy with people having to disclose personal and sensitive information in earshot of anyone else in the waiting area. Where private rooms were available, these weren’t always offered or clearly signposted. They felt that where they encountered increased security measures that these were off-putting: services without glass barriers or security guards felt more inviting.

They were disappointed that signposting to other local services that could provide a range of help and assistance was not more consistent. We were able to feedback that housing officers and reception staff, as well as handling issues sensitively, should take get better at signposting to other local agencies as this goes a long way to people feeling like their circumstances have been listened to and taken seriously.

Twenty-one visits and four reports later, the participating organisations have a unique insight into what they are doing well and what needs to be done to better meet the needs and expectations of the people who come to them for help.

Find out more about Shelter Cymru’s Take Notice project.

Let’s stop making young people homeless

It’s great to see evictions from social housing continue to decline in Wales. Clearly there is a determination by most social landlords to do all they can to prevent people from becoming homeless, a real challenge in the context of austerity and the Universal Credit rollout.

But even with figures at their lowest for years, at least 775 households lost their homes in 2017 through evictions from social landlords. On top of that figure there’s an unknown number of evictions taking place among tenants on licences and Assured Shorthold Tenancies.

What happens to these people? Where have they gone?  What circumstances are they now in? Is there more we can do?

Of course there is.

I was struck when I read the excellent, and influential Preventing Youth Homelessness: an international review of evidence published by the Wales Centre for Public Policy, by a set of very sensible ‘system prevention’ recommendations aimed at health and social care: that there should be ‘zero discharge into homelessness’, and that in the criminal justice system there should be a planned discharge, providing young people with housing options.

In other words duties should not end until people are assured they have appropriate accommodation and support where necessary.

It’s not surprising that these two areas were identified in the report – we all know the overwhelming evidence is that people who have left care or the criminal justice system are disproportionately represented among street homeless people.

But what also struck me was that there was no similar recommendation aimed at social and supported housing. Certainly the report recognises the crucial role social housing plays in preventing homelessness, but perhaps we need to go one step further. After all, the most effective way of preventing homelessness is not to let it happen.

Of course social landlords don’t ‘discharge’ people from their homes: they evict them. So why not replace ‘discharge’ with ‘evict’ – ‘social landlords should not evict young people into homelessness.’

We know that there will be occasions when a social landlord reaches a point where they feel all other avenues have been exhausted and a tenant needs to be evicted. But adopting the ‘as long as it takes’ principle, should that be the end of the relationship?

Instead could we explore in Wales a collaborative approach between key services and social landlords to ensure that evictions mean a move to an alternative home, rather than homelessness?

It seems to me that the benefits of this approach are enormous, both in terms of the individual or household concerned of course, but also in terms of developing a planned approach to resolving tenancy difficulties, rather than the costly and less effective crisis driven response that is usually necessary when responding to the emergency of homelessness.

I’m not sure how we get to this point. Voluntary protocols?  WG guidance and expectations? A law one day maybe? But if it could work for young people, why not families with dependent children? Why not eventually all tenants having difficulty maintaining their tenancies?

I am sure our friends in the sector will, understandably, have a hundred questions and concerns about this idea – but let’s start the dialogue – what a prize to win and what a huge step it would be to ending homelessness in Wales.

Vulnerable tenants mustn’t lose out in the letting fee ban

 

Leanne* contacted the Shelter Cymru Live helpline earlier this year because her landlord was trying to evict her and her children for rent arrears.

She knew there would be some arrears due to Universal Credit, but the amount the letting agent told her she owed was incredible to her. She’d been trying really hard to keep afloat, and she just couldn’t understand why the arrears were suddenly so high.

When she looked into it further, she discovered that the agent was charging her a default fee of £26.30 every single day that she was late with rent.

Just let that amount sink in.

It is £184 a week.

It is £800 a month.

A big part of the problem was that her Universal Credit was paid a week later than her rent due date. She’d tried to get both dates moved, but neither the DWP nor the letting agent would budge.

Why would the agent refuse this? Well, it might be because default fees are a tidy source of income for those unscrupulous agents who are happy to exploit people in poverty. For years we have been campaigning to ask the Welsh Government to ban tenant fees.

In June we were delighted to hear that our campaign supporters’ voices had been heard. The Renting Homes (Fees etc.) (Wales) Bill is currently going through the Senedd and is likely to come into force some time next year.

There’s a huge amount to welcome in the Bill. Tenants will no longer have to find hundreds of pounds in upfront fees at the start of a tenancy. The security deposit will be capped, probably at six weeks’ rent. Any holding deposit will also be capped at one week’s rent, and fully refundable.

It is going to make private rented housing more accessible for hundreds of thousands of people in Wales.

There are, however, a number of areas of the Bill that still need improvement. And the biggest area of concern is default fees of the type charged to Leanne.

Default fees are currently permitted in the Bill. A Senedd committee recommended that the Bill should be amended to require default fees to be ‘fair and reasonable’. This proposal was rejected by the Welsh Government, arguing that ‘fair and reasonable’ was a civil rather than criminal test. Instead they are proposing to issue guidance on what is and isn’t an unfair default fee.

This doesn’t give enough protection to tenants like Leanne and her children.

If this Bill became law as currently proposed, Leanne would need to take her agent to court to challenge the unfair fees. This is a completely unrealistic proposition.

Apart from the stress and worry of court action, there is no Legal Aid available for cases like these. Leanne would have to represent herself in court, unless she could afford a private solicitor, and she’d have to find several hundred pounds of court fees upfront. The court system is so overloaded that it would take months for the case to be heard, during which time she’d be risking a revenge eviction.

This wouldn’t be necessary if Leanne had been charged any of the other types of prohibited payment. She’d be able to go to the local authority or Rent Smart Wales and get a fixed penalty notice issued. Access to justice would be swift and fair.

This is why we want to see default fees defined in the Bill itself or in regulations. We’re not saying that agents should never charge a late payment fee in order to recoup the expense of chasing arrears. But we do think it is vitally important to ensure that tenants are not put in the position where they are essentially unable to challenge an unfair default fee. This will create a loophole open to exploitation, and it will be tenants on low incomes who suffer most.

We’re calling on the Welsh Government to amend the Bill so that:

  • Default fees are defined in the Bill as two types of payment: late payment of rent, and lost keys. Other fees should be recovered via the security deposit
  • Late payment fees are charged once a month only, and capped at a level to be set by Ministers and periodically revised
  • Late payment fees cannot be charged until the rent is 14 days late.

If you agree, please email your Assembly Members as soon as possible to ask them to put forward amendments to protect tenants from rip-off default fees.

 

* Leanne’s name has been changed

How Wales deals with criminal landlords (clue: it’s not the same as England)

By Jennie Bibbings

This week’s news highlighted the gaping loopholes in English law that allow criminal ‘rogue’ landlords to continue to operate even after being banned.

Most of the coverage lumped England and Wales together – leading to much tweeting and use of the #thatsdevolved hashtag – and ignored the progress that we’ve made towards professionalising the Welsh private rented sector.

While England has a criminal landlord database devoid of any landlords’ names after six months in operation, Wales has the Rent Smart Wales licensing scheme. Rent Smart Wales means that every landlord and letting agent must register, pass a fit and proper person test, and undertake basic training.

If you don’t register it’s a criminal offence with hefty penalties including rent repayment orders, rent stopping orders, losing the power to evict tenants, and ultimately losing the ability to operate as a landlord or agent.

It’s been encouraging to see the effort that’s gone into prosecuting unlicensed landlords: 44 successful prosecutions so far, and nearly 400 fixed penalties. Landlords have faced fines of up to £11,000 for a range of offences. And 31 licences have been refused or revoked because the landlord has failed the fit and proper person test.

But does this mean that Wales doesn’t have the same problem of criminal landlords continuing to operate despite being banned?

Sadly, it doesn’t.

Although the vast majority of privately rented homes are now registered and known to Rent Smart Wales, there are still an estimated 10,000 homes – about five per cent of the sector – whose landlords are still to comply.

At Shelter Cymru we encounter unlicensed landlords and agents every day in our casework. This has included landlords who would be very unlikely to pass a fit and proper person test. Rent Smart Wales are actively pursuing landlords like these.

Given their performance to date, and the vast range of penalties at their disposal, there shouldn’t be any doubt that Rent Smart Wales is going to eventually force persistently non-compliant landlords out of business.

Let’s not forget, though, that failing to register with Rent Smart Wales is only one of many ways in which some landlords break the law.

Private rented problems make up around a third of our casework. It’s a daily horror show of dangerously bad conditions, harassment, and illegal evictions – and frustratingly, people’s access to redress is nowhere near strong enough.

Often we find that Environmental Health doesn’t have the capacity to get involved. And many tenants don’t feel they can push for repairs because of the risk of a no-fault ‘revenge’ eviction and the high cost of moving home.

Often their only option is to look for somewhere else to live. Once they’ve moved on, it might be possible for them to sue their previous landlord for damages.

Obviously this route is only available to tenants with some resources behind them and the confidence to push their case via the courts. It doesn’t happen often. Most people just cut their losses and move on.

There’s hardly any enforcement on illegal evictions. The local authority says it’s a police matter, the police say it’s a local authority matter, and so the only option for tenants is to apply for an injunction to get back in the home, at least for long enough to pack up and make a planned move.

Even when an injunction has been obtained, getting redress through the courts is extremely complicated and rarely happens in practice.

This is why we want to see Rent Smart Wales continue to grow and develop into a comprehensive system of regulation that can bring our clients the redress they deserve.

Enforcement shouldn’t just be about whether landlords and agents are licensed – it should address the whole range of bad practice that people seek our help with.

As Rent Smart Wales enters its fourth year of operation it’s time to think big about the scheme’s potential to make a real difference to the lives of Wales’s half a million private renters.

Cold, desperate and forgotten

by Rebecca Jackson

 

Street homelessness is becoming more and more visible across Wales.

The media coverage is extensive and although efforts are made to speak to people sleeping rough, quite often their voices are overshadowed or drowned out by the views of the public, professionals and politicians. It is easy to be grabbed by a headline and forget that these relate to people, people like you and me, with their own opinions, stories and aspirations.

All too often the focus from media and the public are on the symptoms of a growing street homeless population; issues such as begging, drug use and public intoxication are more frequently mentioned and just serve to distract from the fact that people do not have a home.

This week we are publishing an important piece of research that redresses the balance and puts people who are street homeless at the centre of the discussion. In Wales we have around 345 people sleeping on our streets: over a four month period we spoke with 100 of those people…that’s just under a third of the whole rough sleeping population in Wales.

Our researchers spent time going out and speaking with people on the streets, in their tents and at shelters. We’re hoping that what we heard will make you think beyond the sensationalism and try to see the people behind the stories. All of the quotes below come from the people we spoke with.

Nearly everyone we spoke with felt lonely, unwell and victimised. Although we do have a range of services in Wales, people said they faced huge difficulties trying to access and work with them.

‘We are treated with such a lack of any sense of humanity’

Barriers included very long waiting times for substance misuse services; overly complex referral routes; requirements to produce ID and other documentation; and hostel environments that were so intimidating that some people felt they were safer sleeping outside, in freezing winter temperatures.

‘I would like to be off these streets…you can’t imagine how cold it’s been…we use mamba to numb everything so time passes quickly…we don’t want to know what’s happening, we want silence, peace, death even’

People had a wide range of complex needs including poor mental health and illness, addictions, learning difficulties and adverse childhood experiences. We heard that the system requires effort and action that most just aren’t capable of.

‘I need support to do anything; I can’t see myself doing anything other than dying at the moment’

There are very real barriers preventing people from getting the right help at the right time. We know that there are some good services in Wales and they are trying their best to cope with increasing demand. And clearly, the system does work for some. But there are too many others who can’t make it work for them.

‘It’s so difficult to remember appointments when you’re street homeless. You’re living hour to hour just trying to survive’ 

So, how do we solve this? We asked people what they wanted and needed to end their homelessness. The answer was resounding:

‘I just want a home, somewhere by myself that I’m safe and warm and can live a normal life’

A roof over your head is only a first step but it is such a vital one, and if we are truly trying to end homelessness it should be at the centre of what we do. That roof is not likely to be in a large hostel with other people with complex needs, or only available after you have managed to work your way through a system that doesn’t recognise your needs.

We need to think differently. People told us they want their own homes, a chance to recover and rebuild their lives. People just wanted a home, but few felt hopeful of that becoming a reality.

‘We are supposed to be a caring society, what is going on?’

So next time you see a news story, a comment on social media or a sleeping bag in a doorway please remember the people behind them.  And if you want to help in a positive way then have a look at our 7 ways you can end homelessness.

Homeless LGBTQ people in Wales are being let down

By Edith England

 

This Saturday, 40,000 people will celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans equality in Wales’ biggest celebration of LGBTQ acceptance. Yet can we really say we have achieved equality, when LGBTQ people remain at much higher risk of homelessness?

June 28th, 1970. Two thousand New Yorkers marched, from the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, to Central Park, 51 blocks away, to demand LGBTQ rights. LGBTQ identity was still criminalised, with LGBTQ people seen as dangerous and mentally incompetent. It took bravery to march through the city, holding banners and signs aloft, to demand equality. This was the first Pride.

Exactly one year before, police had raided the city’s most popular LGBTQ bar, the Stonewall Inn, for what would be the last time. Despite being continually targeted by New York’s brutal police force, the Inn was a haven for America’s harassed and victimised LGBTQ community. That night they fought back, led, in part, by a young, self identified, homeless, “street queen” named Marsha P Johnson.

A seasoned activist, Marsha’s gender identity and expression were ambiguous and don’t fit modern categories neatly. At 22, she had already had many of the experiences common to LGBTQ homeless youth- parental rejection, high risk of abuse, familial violence. The Stonewall Inn was one of the few places in the city for homeless LGBTQ youth, like her, to meet, exist, and be accepted.

Marsha P. Johnson

Fifty years have passed. British lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people’s rights are beyond what the Stonewall protestors dared to demand. Marriage equality, parental and adoption rights, and strong anti-discrimination laws place the UK among the best in the world at protecting its lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens. For trans people, progress has been slower. However, as well as protection against discrimination, and the right to gender recognition (for some trans people), the new Gender Identity Clinic in Wales, for trans people who want medical care as part of their transition, is a welcome move forward.

But not everyone has the same access to equality. In the shadow of this phenomenal progress exists a shocking statistic: in Britain today, 24% of youth at risk of homelessness identify as LGBTQ.  A quarter of trans people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.  This is made worse by discrimination in other parts of young LGBTQ people’s lives. Many schools remain unsafe places for LGBTQ youth. High numbers of LGBTQ people have experienced hate crime. Unsurprisingly, drug and alcohol addiction and poor mental health are higher in LGBTQ people than the rest of the population.

No young person should be homeless. No young person should have to stay with an abusive family, or have nowhere to turn after being thrown out by their parents. LGBTQ youth, like all homeless people, need more than just accommodation. Homelessness is a traumatic experience. To help them move on, they need joined-up support. They need access to services that understand them, that accept them and that value them for who they are.

Fifty years ago, homeless LGBTQ people were in the vanguard of the fight for equality. We owe our modern LGBTQ rights to them. In the years after the first Pride, Marsha P Johnson, with Sylvia Riviera, continued their street activism. Still in their early twenties themselves, they set up and funded the STAR house, the first refuge for homeless LGBT youth.

Yet in Wales, in 2018, homeless LGBTQ youth have few targeted services, no dedicated hostels or refuges, and few specialist workers. In comparison, England has several specialist charities, including the Albert Kennedy Trust, which provides intensive support for homeless LGBTQ youth (including a UK-wide helpline).

Homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in Wales are being let down. It is time for change.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shelter Cymru is currently looking at the experiences of trans people who have been homeless in Wales. If you are trans, have been homeless and would be willing to talk to a researcher about your experiences, please get in touch with Edith England EnglandEA@cardiff.ac.uk. You will receive a £20 gift voucher and travel expenses.