Housing is an issue for everyone. It can be difficult for anyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation, to find somewhere decent and safe to live. Many people are homeless or reside in substandard or overcrowded housing for a range of reasons, such as:
Then, unfortunately people do not live happily ever after once they have found accommodation. Situations change: people may struggle with payments for their accommodation, they may begin to feel unsafe in their own home or the living space may become unsuitable as the size of their household varies or their physical needs change.
Housing is specifically an issue for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people
Most local authorities and housing providers do not monitor the sexuality of clients therefore they do not have a clear picture of how big the problem is nor how best to respond to the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people faced with homelessness.
There is limited research about the housing needs of LGB people but reports such as Stonewall Housing's 'Sexual Exclusion' Report (2005) identify the specific issues they face:
Young LGB people:
Sexuality can be a direct cause of homelessness for young LGB people - they are thrown out of their home or decide to leave home to escape homophobia.
Coming to terms with their sexuality and the withdrawal of love and support from family and friends can lead to emotional or mental health difficulties, such as low self-esteem, depression and self-harming behaviour. They can put themselves in dangerous or exploitative situations to meet their need for acceptance and affection and they can begin to use alcohol or drugs to try to cope with or block out issues arising from being LGB and homeless.
Older LGB people:
People have difficult decisions to make about housing and care as they grow older. They may need to consider sheltered or extra-care accommodation or may need to arrange for a carer to visit their own home.
Older people often find that society believes they no longer have an active sexuality and it is assumed that everyone in older people's accommodation is heterosexual. This often leads to LGB older people being invisible within housing services or housing workers are uncomfortable about LGB issues, which intensifies their feeling of isolation and they fail to receive the services they need.
Harassment and violence:
Many LGB people of all ages experience homophobic harassment and violence in their neighbourhood. Someone may know or suspect their sexuality. Harassment can include name-calling, graffiti, criminal damage and over time even seemingly small incidents can cause extreme distress and fear, with people often too frightened to leave their own home. Homophobic assaults or violence may or may not be preceded by incidents of harassment.
LGB people are often forced to be open about their sexuality in order to report a crime to the police or anti-social behaviour to their landlord.
LGB people can face domestic abuse from partners, parents, siblings and other family members. This abuse can be emotional, physical, financial or sexual. One of the biggest obstacles for LGB people wanting to flee domestic abuse is the lack of emergency accommodation for LGB people, especially for men.
LGB people can also face marginalisation on multiple levels when trying to find appropriate accommodation - for example, if they are disabled or are from black, asian or other minority ethnic groups, or are travellers, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Lack of awareness among service providers about the sexuality of their clients can mean they are not always aware of the needs of LGB people and do not appreciate that they are in priority need for housing. This can make it difficult for LGB people to get the right help and support and can lead to increased vulnerability.
Also, homophobia perpetrated by staff or other service users can compound the difficulties faced by LGB people which may lead to them leaving housing services or avoiding using them at all.
By Bob Green, of Stonewall Housing
(Stonewall Housing is a separate charity from Stonewall and can be found online at www.stonewallhousing.org)