Being homeless, trans people will often face a stark choice between constantly concealing their true self, and running the risk of discrimination of violence.

Sexuality, gender identity and homelessness. Centre for Homelessness Impact, 2022

The Centre for Homelessness Impact is part of the What Works Network.  Founded in 2018, we exist to act as a catalyst for evidence-led change. Part of our mission is helping people who work in frontline services to understand and act on the best available evidence. Last year, we published some research that examined what we know about the risks and experience of homelessness for LGBTQ+ people.

We have partnered with Cardboard Citizens to help explore the themes running through Faun. The show highlights hidden homelessness amongst the trans community and explores how people pleasing is often a response when people don’t have a place to call home.

There is a common misconception that homelessness can happen to anyone – that we are all two or three pay cheques away from homelessness.  The sad fact is that the evidence shows this is not the case.  We are not all at equal risk of homelessness and we do not experience homelessness equally.

What do we know about sexuality, gender identity and homelessness?

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen a lot of progress in the United Kingdom in terms of LGBTQ+ rights as well as public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people.  Even so, people who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience homelessness. About 65% feel that their sexuality or gender identity – an innate part of themselves – was a contributing factor to their homelessness. What does this mean? Well, for young people, who might be just figuring out their identity, coming out, facing a lack of acceptance or opposition or violence at home, can lead to them leaving home before they are ready, and without a safety net.

The 2017 National LGBT survey found that 29% of respondents had experienced verbal harassment, “outing” without their permission or coercive or controlling behaviour from someone they lived with. 59% of trans women and 56% of trans men who responded to the same survey said that they had avoided expressing their gender identity in public because of fear of discrimination.

We know that 26% of young people who experienced care have sofa surfed and 14% have slept outside; we know that two thirds of trans people experience depression each year; we know that LGBT young people are more likely to use alcohol and drugs than their peers and from what the data suggests, it seems that LGBTQ+ people are more at risk of falling into poverty – and homelessness – than cisgender and heterosexual people.

When LGBTQ+ people do experience homelessness, including hidden homelessness like sofa surfing, because of the precarity of their situation, people will often engage in use of drugs, alcohol, sex work or transactional sex in order to secure a “safe space” to avoid rough sleeping. People often experience discrimination when accessing services that should be there to help them – 59% of LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness said that they faced some type of discrimination or harassment.  Young trans people are often denied access to single-sex spaces for emergency accommodation, leaving them with either riskier multi-sex spaces or with no access to emergency services. Fear of police and other authorities is common, meaning that many LGBTQ+ young people will not report crimes and will not approach the local authority for help when they are homeless or about to be.

So, what can we do about this? Well, a lot of these inequalities and experiences are due to discrimination – or fear of discrimination. So, while we do recommend training and more robust policies for professionals that specifically include LGBTQ+ people, we also must ensure that spaces for people experiencing homelessness are more visibly and actively welcoming to LGBTQ+ people.

We know that there is a problem and we must work together, with better evidence and data, to find a solution.

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