Apropos of a report by UCD researchers Professor Michelle Norris and Dr Aideen Quilty, Andrea Andres investigates the prevalence of homelessness among the LGBTQI+ community.
Homelessness is a pervasive and far-too familiar issue in Ireland, but there has been little study on how homelessness affects young people among the LGBTQI+ community. To combat this, a report by UCD researchers Professor Michelle Norris and Dr Aideen Quilty, in conjunction with Focus Ireland and BeLonGTo, aimed to shed light on the matter. The study titled ‘A Qualitative Study of LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness in Ireland’ revealed that a breakdown of familial relationships due to parents' rejection of their child’s sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the triggers that lead to LGBTQI+ homelessness. Additionally, the report outlines how the impact of homelessness on the mental health of LGBTQI+ youth can lead to self-silencing and self-stigmatisation.
Twenty-two LGBTQI+ participants between the age of 18 to 30 were interviewed by volunteers across Ireland. A key factor leading to LGBTQI+ youth becoming homeless was parental rejection of gender identity or sexuality. They were either asked to leave, given an ultimatum to stay, that usually relied on them rejecting their sexuality or gender identity, or they left because they could no longer endure their living situation. A participant noted that “It was always not-great in the home. It was always at a level where it was really bad, I would have to leave eventually. But when I came out, I just felt like they felt that they didn’t know me. And that I was completely alien to them. She’d always say that she was very positive about the whole thing, but from my experience and from my point of view and my truth, she was disgusted by it and horrified by it. Everything got worse” (Participant 8).
The impact of being kicked out left was often sudden and many were unprepared for a loss of stable housing. Participants generally had a lack of knowledge of what services were available for them to access and this is a reflection of many who unexpectedly became homeless. Other triggers to homelessness also involved a deterioration of a relationship with their partner after coming out as trans, substance abuse due to internalised homophobia, and simply being unable to pay rising rents because they lost their job or were just unable to afford rent anymore.
Participants also experienced a 'double closet' in which they were hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity and that they were homeless. As one participant puts it: "You start to hate yourself because of the situation you’re in. And hiding that you’re gay, hiding that you’re homeless. It’s difficult"(Participant 1). This traps them between not being able to come out as homeless to their peers for fear of being excluded in an LGBTQI+ community, and not being able to come out as LGBTQI+ in homelessness context for their own personal safety.
The report revealed that over half of the participants (13 out of 22) disclosed mental issues, with five experiencing acute mental ill-health. Homelessness has a strong influence on the participants' mental health, stress, and anxiety as they try to walk a tightrope of trying to keep safe and thinking of when they should come out while trying to find a home. Those who are queer, trans, or non-binary especially experienced uneasiness with finding a place with appropriate roommates for fear of experiencing transphobia and homophobia from them.
Mental health is also further exacerbated by loneliness due to feeling the shame and stigma of both being homeless and LGBTQI+. For one participant, this feeling of loneliness caused them to turn to drugs. The stress and anxiety of homelessness or a precarious housing situation had profound effects on their education, work as well as relationships. It also hindered their ability to navigate the system of services available to the homeless such as registering themselves as homeless, getting the Housing Assistant Payment (HAP), and getting a place of their own through the system.
To mitigate the problem of LGBTQI+ youth homelessness, the report has set out some recommendations. As a preventative method, the report has suggested that the latest “Youth Homelessness Strategy" should include LGBTQI+ homelessness, and the government should put support in place in youth services, education, and family services to help prevent homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth. It also suggested that mediation workers and frontline staff should receive specialist training to support homeless LGBTQI+ youth.
The report recommends the creation of LGBTQI+ friendly spaces that have clear branding to show that the staff are trained and these spaces are safe and inclusive for LGBTQI+ youth. It also suggested that an independent body look over the process of collecting and publishing data on risk factors and risk groups, including the LGBTQI+ youth. Dr Quilty emphasised that it is “important that we listen to and hear carefully the voices of these courageous young people...We have a responsibility to ensure their stories matter and that we respond through targeted, appropriate actions.”
Despite its prevalence, the issue of homelessness in the LGBTQI+ community has not often been addressed and the authors of this report hope that more visibility of the issue will lead to more efficient management of the homelessness sector by policymakers and management. Professor Norris said that “The report demonstrates that LGBTQI+ young adults face additional risks of becoming homeless due to conflict with parents and caregivers regarding sexuality and gender identity, in addition these young adults face additional barriers to accessing services when they do become homeless and building strong relationships with service providers,” There needs to be inclusion in this area of society which also allows people to know that they are welcome to access supports and to be aware of what supports are available. The ultimate goal is to prevent LGBTQI+ homelessness in the first place and by shining a light on the issue, it marks a crucial stage of moving from gathering evidence to action.