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New Focus Ireland/BeLonG To Youth Services report finds parental rejection of young people’s sexual orientation and gender identity can lead to homelessness

Parental rejection of young people’s sexual orientation and gender identity can be a key trigger in the decision to leave home and can subsequently lead to homelessness according to a new research report released today by Focus Ireland and BeLonG To Youth Services. Participants (aged 18 to 30) also revealed a deeply concerning connection between homelessness and mental health problems as well as complex experiences of stigma and shame.

The research study, the first of its kind in Ireland, which was published today (Friday 18th September), was carried out by Professor Michelle Norris and Dr Aideen Quilty of University College Dublin on behalf of Focus Ireland in partnership with the national LGBTI+ youth organisation BelonG To Youth Services It involved interviews with young homeless people who identified as LGBTQI+ as well as a number of policy makers in the homeless sector.

The report identified a high degree of fear and anxiety among young people when engaging with homeless services. The majority of young people interviewed (22 in total) were unwilling to enter a space, such as a hostel, where they feared that they would encounter a lack of understanding or blatant homophobic and transphobic attitudes among both other service users and staff. On the other hand, the research showed an overwhelmingly positive impact for those who did access frontline services, such as key workers. However, some young people interviewed also reported instances of less positive interactions with both staff and clients of homeless services.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said: “This study sought for the first time to make visible and give a voice to LGBTQI+ youth homelessness in Ireland. The report raises a number of important challenges for the homeless sector. While we believe we run inclusive organisations we need to listen to the perspective of young people who are doubly marginalized and respond accordingly. We are in a housing and homeless crisis with many dimensions, and to bring this to an end it is vital to fully understand the range of challenges that people face. Given the scale of the challenge, it is easy for the experiences of this group of young people to go unheard. We need to have solid data which clearly outlines why young people in the LGBTQI+ community become homeless and what could be done to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place. A key lesson is we need changes in training and practice to ensure that services are LBTQ+ friendly and can respond to the specific needs of each person.”

The young people interviewed expressed a dual process of self-imposed silencing and secrecy in relation to their LGBTQI+ identity and homelessness experiences. This ‘double closet’ is instructive for the greater understanding of the difficulties faced by LGBTQI+ youth.

Research co-author Dr Aideen Quilty said: “As the first qualitative study of LGBTQI+ youth homelessness in Ireland it is important that we listen to and hear carefully the voices of these courageous young people. Their powerful stories highlight significant levels of resilience in the face of challenging, distressing and damaging experiences of homelessness. We have a responsibility to ensure their stories matter and that we respond through targeted, appropriate actions.”

Co-author Professor Michelle Norris said: “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. Therefore, it is critical that LGBTQI+ youth homelessness is addressed in the planned Youth Homeless Strategy’.”

Moninne Griffith, CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services said: “The need for information on homelessness among LGBTQI+ young people is particularly urgent in light of the rise in youth homeless in Ireland in recent years. Coming out can still lead to LGBTI+ youth being made homeless In our frontline services, we witness a significant number of LGBTQI+ youth living without a permanent home and surviving by sleeping on friends’ sofas, squatting or staying in other insecure or unsafe places. This group are even more difficult to identify and consequently are often referred to as the ‘forgotten homeless’ or ‘hidden homeless. In light of this research, the ‘Youth Homelessness Strategy’, committed to in the Programme for Government 2020, should include a ‘homelessness prevention’ pillar with specific reference to the particular risks and pathways into homelessness which LGBTQI+ youth are likely to experience. Nobody should have to choose between being who they are and having a safe place to live.

The main findings in the report include the following:

  • Young people who are LBGTQI+ not only experience all the interpersonal, familial and intrapersonal problems of the young population-at-large (including leaving care, family breakdown and the shortage of affordable accommodation) but also have a range of other challenges associated with their sexuality and gender identity. In particular, the complex experiences relating to coming out and/or transitioning create an increased risk of homelessness and vulnerability within homelessness.
  • The young people’s stories and experiences captured in the research also highlighted the sobering reality that – despite significant progress in Ireland – homophobia and transphobia persist.
  • Many young LGBTQI+ people without a home, avoid homeless services and live in a precarious world of ‘sofa surfing’ with friends and acquaintances.
  • Many of the participants were still in precarious accommodation or formal homelessness but these young people still showed exceptional levels of resilience through a range of agentic strategies

Recommendations

This study also made a series of recommendations, the first of which is that the issue of LGBTQI homelessness should be included in the new Youth Homelessness Strategy, which the Government promised in their Programme for Government. The report also proposed a range of measures which would reduce the risk of young LGBTQI people becoming homeless in the first place, including more mediation services and training on gender issues for family mediators and other youth workers. The report also recommended a number of measures to make homeless services more accessible and supportive for young LGBTQI homeless people, including branding for ‘LGBTQI+ friendly spaces’ where staff have received appropriate training. The report also recommended that the Department of Housing should establish an independent review group to look at the way that all data on homeless is collected and published and that this group should also look at how more reliable data on LGBTQI homelessness can be collected, will respecting the privacy of people who are homeless.

This project was part-funded by donations to Focus Ireland and by the St. Stephen’s Green Trust and the Human Dignity Foundation who Focus Ireland would like to sincerely thank

Editors notes 

Following an extensive recruitment process, 22 one-to-one interviews with homeless, LGTBQI+ young people aged between 18 and 30 were conducted between December 2018 and August 2019. There were also 14 interviews with policy makers and representatives of homeless organisations.

Conor Culkin

Communications Officer

Focus Ireland

086 468 0442

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