Last year it was reported that as much as 24% of homeless people were made up of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) youth. Recently I read an article that stated the situation has not improved this year. So what exactly are the issues and why is it that almost a quarter of homeless applicants are from the LGBT community?
In June 2012 a YouGov survey demonstrated largely accepting attitudes of the British population toward LGBT rights. Notwithstanding the huge strides in cultural shift including the legalisation of same sex marriages in 2013, unfortunately the startling reality is that many young LGBT people are still having to leave their family home due to regressive attitudes at home and from peers and homophobic abuse from friends and family. The discrimination and lack of support is bad enough but the uphill struggle to find a roof over their heads only adds to the suffering for these individuals who are susceptible to violence, crime and sexual exploitation if left on the streets. This is particularly worrying when studies suggest that gay and bisexual people are twice as likely to affected by mental health issues.
Organisations such as the Albert Kennedy Trust are doing incredibly commendable work in doing their bit to end the discrimination faced by these individuals by providing support, advocacy services and safe homes. As laudable as this is, there is still a great deal to do in stamping out the discrimination faced by LGBT youth in accessing housing.
What are the problems?
- Gatekeeping practices adopted by local authorities in order to dodge responsibility making it impossible to make a homelessness application. This practice is illegal yet we come across many homeless applicants who are sent away without the local authority having conducted any meaningful enquiries, which they are legally obliged to do. For the LGBT youth community, it is not unknown for them to be told to return to their homes that they have fled due to fear of continued acts of homophobic violence.
- The statutory test prescribing when local authorities have a duty of care to homeless applicants. Under the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order  the definition of priority need includes those that are vulnerable as a result of fleeing domestic violence or the threat of domestic violence. Unfortunately practically this is not taking hold. Local authorities appear to rely heavily on the local connection provisions in order to justify shirking off responsibility. By so doing vulnerable LGBT homeless applicants are referred back to the local authority of their former residence to which they are reticent to return.
- The abolition of Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds in April 2017. St. Mungos reported in May 2015 that as at that time, 19,031 youths aged 18-21 were claiming housing benefit. They expressed concerns that the scrapping of housing benefit for this age group would mean a further rise in youth homelessness especially where there had been a breakdown in relationship at home due to non-acceptance of sexuality. Worryingly, the converse result of these benefits could mean that these vulnerable youths return to abusive homes to avoid becoming street homeless which simply is not acceptable.
- The shared room rate for under 35s. This means that single private renters under the age of 35 are usually only entitled to housing benefit at the shared accommodation rate. With the shared accommodation rate, the maximum housing benefit these individuals can get is the rate for renting a single room in a shared house. For transgender homeless youths this can be problematic where you may be sharing a home with others who harbour homophobic views or worse still, may be susceptible to homophobic violence in their own home. As a result many choose to sleep rough where they are at considerable risk for the reasons explored above.
The above problems appear to perpetuate the notion that the responsibility of providing shelter to under 21s lies with parents. This cannot be right in the 21st century where the nuclear family is no longer the norm. It ought to be recognised that as opposed to living with parents with their “support”, sadly for a considerable number of the LGBT youths, it would be a lot more preferable to sleep on the streets