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Mikesh - a story of intersecting identities and complex trauma

  • 6 min read |
  • Posted by Signe
  • On 22 November 2022

Trigger warnings: mentions of sexual assault, abuse, homophobia, discrimination, death

Intersectionality is a relatively new concept in the homelessness sector. We are beginning to understand that the lives of the people we try to help do not necessarily conform neatly into preconceived ideas and the sectoral dividing lines we have constructed.

Intersectionality is a framework that thinks about our gender, race, political identity, social identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other attributes that make up our sense of self.

We know that minority groups experience homelessness to a far greater extent than they are represented in public homelessness services. Prior to the pandemic, a quarter of the homelessness applications received by local authorities were from people of colour, and nearly a quarter of the UK’s homeless youth identified as LGBT+, despite only making up 13% and 3.1% of the general population respectively. However, this is not reflected in service design or in the referrals we get at Justlife. Most of our clients identify as white British and male.

We also know that many people experiencing homelessness have more than one identity that impacts how they experience the system. Homelessness services tend to think in boxes, but the reality is rarely one of neat categories.

Mikesh, a refugee from India, might at a quick glance be classified solely by their race as a person from an ethnic minority background. But this is not the whole story.


Mikesh, who is now known as Mike, is 37 years old. They identify as genderfluid and gay. This was extremely difficult within the family and society they came from, and eventually caused them to flee India. They have been in the UK for the last 12 years, moving between different forms of homelessness.

Mike suffers from Dissociative Personality Disorder, PTSD and anxiety. Dissociative Personality Disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder, is associated with a history of severe childhood trauma. Mike lives with three ‘alters’, alternative identities of different ages and genders that are always with them.

Early trauma

This may have started early. Mike’s parents, strict followers of the Hindu religion, did not accept their sexuality and locked them into a room upon discovering they were gay. Mike spent several years locked away in that room.

It’s a bit difficult for me to talk to people… I used to live in a dark room in my childhood. A locked room. From my teenage years I lived in a locked room. I used to get electric shocks and Hindu rituals. I couldn’t take all that so I ran away from home one day

After escaping, Mike lived as a young man in a gay relationship in another town. This was a happy time for them. However, diverging from the norm on gender and sexuality did not just lead to familial rejection, but harassment and danger from wider society too. Mike and their partner were together in the street when a group of people attacked and assaulted them. Mike escaped but their partner died.

Still, I miss my partner, but he is safe, he is safe with God now. I will meet him one day

Homeless in England

After the assault, Mike found a childhood friend who suggested they leave for London. With limited English and no idea of what to do, Mike arrived alone in London, 25 years old, to live on the streets. After some time they were picked up by a family who promised a room and food in return for cleaning. Mike stayed with several families, in London as well as other parts of the country, but never long in the same place. This was not a happy time, but they were glad not to be on the streets. They did not know that they could apply for asylum or get support as a refugee.

“Living like that, hiding, I didn’t talk much to anybody”

Eventually Mike was arrested by the police for living in the UK without a visa. They ended up in prison for 6 months. Not surprisingly, being locked up in a small room was retraumatizing. However, being in the system meant that they learned they could apply for asylum, and concerned officers sent Mike to see a mental health doctor.

They told me, don’t worry, they don’t give you any electric shock, they’re very nice here. They don’t ask you to change

Mike has a bad history with doctors in India, in what sounds like attempts at conversion therapy, but having positive experiences in England has been healing for them.

Sexual assault

Mike was now in touch with support services which led them to a hostel where they shared a room with nine other people. It was not clear whether this was asylum accommodation; Mike’s understanding and recollection of events has been dulled by their trauma. In the hostel they were treated badly by other residents and, not for the first time, they were sexually assaulted.

I used to get nightmares about that [previous] abuse. When it happens, I don’t know it’s a dream, it feels real. A couple of times it happened, and it felt very real. I used to live with nine people in a room. One day I started getting pain, so much pain

Although scared, Mike managed to tell a support worker who took them to see a doctor. The doctor confirmed that Mike had been sexually assaulted at the hostel, leaving them with an infection. On at least one occasion, it had not been a dream.

At this point, things started to change for Mike. They were helped into different TA where they had their own room with a toilet and a door they could lock. But still they were scared.

“People were shouting [in TA] and it made me very scared”

One year on, Mike was helped to move to a care home, where they finally felt safe. Mike now sees a mental health therapist regularly and has received refugee status.

A multitude of stories in one

Mike shows us that people move between different forms of homelessness. Mike was a refugee, street homeless, hidden away with families they didn’t know for reasons they never understood, and finally in TA - all different forms of homelessness.

Further, there’s the traumatising story of child abuse at the hands of their parents; there’s the story of the refugee who may have been exposed to modern day slavery; there’s the story of a person struggling with their mental health and living with multiple personalities; there’s the story of the challenges of identifying as genderfluid and gay; and what Mike wanted to get across most of all, the story of being sexually assaulted while in TA. To put Mike in a box called ‘ethnic minority background’ would miss all of that.

Although Mike’s story is extraordinary, the fact that it is multifaceted is not. Identities and experiences intersect to make each individual experience unique. The homelessness system is geared to looking for a box that clients can fit neatly into, preferably quickly. But Mike cannot be understood without telling the whole story; it all feeds into each other. Effective support is mindful of intersectionality as it is the reality for many people experiencing homelessness.

To this end we need research and specialist services with the resources and skills to focus on the specific challenges, pathways through, and experiences of, the system for specific minority groups. But homelessness is a highly varied experience and people can be marginalised in more than one way. Ignoring such diversity erases the varied identities and realities of people experiencing homelessness in a way that can be dehumanising and ultimately ineffective. One size does not fit all. To ensure that the support clients receive is effective and meaningful, services need to build in time to listen to their clients, using a trauma informed approach, and be prepared to collaborate across sectors and specialities.

Only when Mike was supported, in a trauma informed way, with their housing needs, their mental health needs, their legal status while also being supported to feel safe in their gender and sexual identity, were they able to turn a corner. Mike now wants to write a book about their experiences. There is lots to tell, lots for us to learn.

He [one of Mike’s alters] is very angry. He says he is my protector, but he doesn’t trust people. I am trying to tell him I am safe now.