Text last updated 29 January 2017
Links last updated 29 January 2017
AJ, left, 23, and his boyfriend, Alex, 21, live on the streets | Christina House/LA Times | 14143
What this is about
Homelessness in the gay community.
Homelessness mainly affects young gay teenagers, but can also affect older gay people. Social services have more involvement with younger homeless gay people and there is more known about their needs than the needs of older homeless gay people. Homelessness is a hidden problem which happily does not affect the majority of people, and because it is difficult to see it, the problem remains hidden and relatively unknown.
Estimates of how many young gay people are affected by homelessness vary widely, but since 2010 a number of good studies have been published which give a good idea of the scale of homelessness among young gay people.
Studies in the USA estimate between 25 per cent and 42 per cent of homeless youth are LGBT, compared to 5 – 7 per cent of the population as a whole. In the UK, Homeless Link estimated in 2010 that 7 per cent of clients using homelessness services were LGBT. In 2012 The New Statesman estimated that 25% of young homeless people were LGBTI and that government policies hit young people particularly hard.
In 2015, a further and wider survey of 473 housing providers in England, Scotland and Wales which interviewed homeless youths between the ages of 16 and 26 found that 69 per cent of homeless LGBT youth were forced out of their homes by their families; the same number also said that mental, emotional or sexual abuse from a family member played a part in their homelessness, while another 62 per cent said that they had experienced aggression or physical violence at home. Homeless LGBT youth were also much more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to participate in substance abuse and fall prey to sexual exploitation on the streets.
Shelter reported in 2007’s report on housing for older people generally:
There is very little information and research on the housing needs of lesbian and gay older people. There are no examples of specialised housing for older
lesbians or gay men in England. Research carried out by the North British
Housing Association found that respondents have a marked preference for ‘lesbian
and gay friendly’ environments rather than exclusively lesbian and gay
Thirty per cent of respondents preferred mixed accommodation for
lesbians and gay men, 35 per cent mixed lesbian/gay/straight accommodation and
35 per cent single sex accommodation but for men/women of all sexual
orientation.46 Polari’s survey among wardens of sheltered accommodation and care
home managers was characterised by lack of interest in the issue, with fewer than a quarter of those contacted taking part.
Some managers who did respond were openly antagonistic towards lesbians and gay people. A report published in 1995 found that there is insufficient specialist housing or housing with support for lesbian and gay older people. It found that the preference of many lesbian and gay older people would be to live in accommodation specifically designed to meet their needs. The main reason for their preference is because they regard much of the existing housing with support as unsuitable and hostile because it is geared to heterosexual older people.
All agree that the problem is continually getting worse.
In December 2010 the Los Angeles Times found that 40% of the homeless youths in Hollywood identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or unsure of their sexual orientation. Five percent were transgender. Many young gay teens who are living on the streets may not necessarily look as though they are, which helps the problem to hide from wider society.
Gay Activist has not been able to discover any reliable estimates of how many older gay people are affected by homelessness whether in the UK, Europe or elsewhere. The fire at London’s Dream City cinema killed a number of older gay men who had nowhere else to go in the daytime to keep warm and dry.
What causes homelessness in the gay community?
Intolerant or prejudiced parents, school, environment.
Homophobic bullying and victimisation at school or college.
Having been in care and not having a family.
Isolation and emotional distress following rejection by family and friends.
Mental health issues from difficulties coming to terms with sexual or gender identity.
Experience of homophobia and transphobia when accessing services and organisations, particularly if they involve remarks, gestures, verbal and physical abuse and harassment.
Escape from violence or abuse.
Exploitation and risky behaviour, alcohol and drug use, or trading sex for a place to stay.
Invisibility and lack of awareness of needs or encouragement to be open about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Being rejected by parents and thrown out of your home because you are gay particularly affects sub-communties within society. Muslim gays, for example, may be kidnapped, taken abroad, forced into marriage and have to escape. Gays in other communities may be pressurised into having ‘treatment’ or ‘exorcism’.
Domestic violence or other abuse experienced in a relationship.
Gay teenagers do not regard traditional homeless shelters as safe, so agencies try to provide separate shelters for them. There is a desperate lack of these; gay charities have been formed to raise awareness and build these shelters. However, the actual level of homophobia in traditional shelters may be less than young gay people imagine it to be.
Many young gay people hang around gay haunts or use the internet to find a sex partner just for somewhere to sleep for the night. Once in someone else’s home, the homeowner may impose their requirements and rules on the younger person. This places vulnerable young people to greater risk.
Like other groups of homeless people, LGBT homeless people become rootless and may spend short periods of time in different cities. In 2000, OUT Magazine reported that numbers of homeless LGBT youths would appear in San Francisco, live on the streets there for a few months then move on; years later the same people would reappear in San Francisco and were still homeless.
It is clear that the problem of homelessness in the gay community has been around and has been getting steadily worse for many years.
If you are thinking about coming out to your parents, and you have any fears that they may not be happy with that information, most gay organisations would tell you not to come out to them, to put that on hold until you have a secure home of your own.
If you find you are homeless:
Contact gay switchboard or your gay community centre and ask to be put in touch with a homelessness organisation
See if there are any family or friends that you can stay with
Local authorities in the UK have responsibility for making sure that the needs of homeless gay people, regardless of their age, are recognised and served, and that homeless gay people have access to those services. They are also required to develop prevention strategies to reduce homophobia in society including within their services, and in schools and in the home.
Homeless Pages UK, No date: Lesbians and gay men
Inside Housing, 10 June 2008: Young homeless gay men using sex to gain shelter
Homeless Link, 2010: Evidence to the Social Security Advisory Committee [Opens pdf]
BBC News, 11 Jan 2010: Gay Muslims being made homeless
Los Angeles Times, 20 Dec 2010: Gay and homeless: In plain sight, a largely hidden population
The New Statesman, 23 April 2012: Young, gay, homeless – and likely to stay that way
Daily Telegraph, 5 February 2016: What it’s like to be young gay and homeless
Opening Doors London, undated: As we grow older (opens pdf)
Shelter, UK, May 2007: Older people and housing