Search here

Screenshot 2023 06 12 at 13 17 53

Not Straight, Not Home: The burden of proof when experiencing homelessness as an LGBTQ+ person

  • 5 min read |
  • Posted by Signe Gosmann
  • On 12 June 2023

I had to speak to them about things I wasn’t ready to speak about. I had to come out to them which I wasn’t ready to do to a stranger

We know that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. To get a better understanding of their particular experiences in temporary accommodation, we interviewed four people who have experienced homelessness and identify in different ways as not straight. We also spoke to five service providers of LGBTQ+ homelessness services.

There are many issues around homelessness that are particular to this group. Not all make it into temporary accommodation, choosing instead to sofa surf or remain hidden from public services. ‘Choice’ however can be a misleading word, suggesting individuals have taken positive action rather than feeling forced into a situation.

Looking at the assessment stage that takes place when someone experiencing homelessness presents to their local authority, it becomes clear that any choice they might have is challenged from the start.

Assessing duty of care when presenting as homeless

When Local Authorities are approached by someone experiencing homelessness, one of the first criteria housing officers will look for is ‘local connection’. This is quite specific; you are considered to have a local connection if you can prove you have lived in a particular council for six out of the last 12 months, or three out of the last five years.

This is only one of the criteria used by housing departments to establish whether they have a duty of care to provide temporary accommodation (main housing duty). Others include whether the person presenting is ‘intentionally homeless’ and in ‘priority need’.

With substantial scope for interpretation locally, a range of outcomes may arise from the initial assessment. This is particularly relevant for people who identify as LGBTQ+.

For example you may be considered intentionally homeless if you have decided to leave a family home, unless you convince a housing officer that it was a detrimental situation for you to live in. The housing officer will make a judgement call, or may ask for this to be evidenced in writing by the family or household that has been left. This is obviously not a suitable avenue to pursue for all.

The reason why I’ve ended up in a situation where I have to rely on temporary accommodation is to do with my sexuality. It is to do with family issues I’ve had around that. As a consequence, it is something I feel very tense about. It’s something that it’s very difficult for me to talk about

This places the burden of proof on the person seeking help. For people identifying as LGBTQ+ in particular, this can be problematic. It is worth reminding ourselves why that is.

LGBTQ+ and homelessness

Since the Sexual Offences Act legalised homosexuality in 1967, albeit only partially and behind closed doors, people who identify differently in terms of gender or sexuality have come a long way towards equality and social acceptance. Take a walk down through the centre of Brighton, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the journey is complete.

Look a little closer however, and you’ll see that that is far from always the case. In spite of significant liberalisation of attitudes and legislation over the past 50+ years, research shows that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are at greater risk of being victims of crime, while at the same time less likely to report incidents and seek support due to fear of homophobic abuse. Just last week, Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Mark Rowley apologised to the LGBTQ+ community for the force's homophobic failings. While welcome, this recognition is unlikely to put an end to homophobic and transphobic discrimination.

For many, the abuse starts in the home. 77% of LGBTQ+ young people experiencing homelessness gave 'family rejection, abuse or being asked to leave home' as a cause of their homelessness. As for the remaining 23%, some will have chosen to leave the family home rather than face the consequences of being ‘outed’.

Local connection: Arguing your case

As the majority of people identifying as LBGTQ+ who experience homelessness are escaping family breakdown, violence and abuse due to their sexuality, staying in their local area can be traumatising and sometimes dangerous. This should be enough to bypass the ‘local connection’ criteria, but that requires proof. The person asking for help will have to describe their situation in detail.

It was something that was very difficult for me to speak to anyone about but I didn’t feel I had a choice

In Brighton, where this research was carried out, many will have chosen to come because the city is known for its inclusivity and large LGBTQ+ community. People told us they felt more at home in this community than they did in the place they had left. ‘Home’ for many who identify as LGBTQ+ is based on community rather than geography. This is not so much a choice as a question of seeking safety and the ability to live a life that isn’t a lie.

I’m not saying it’s 100% safe, but more people support you here... You don’t get the support in any other places like the support you get in Brighton.

One of the reasons I chose to come to Brighton when I didn’t have anywhere else to go, was because it has a reputation for being LGBT positive

Sadly, research shows that 59% of people who identify as anything other than straight have faced discrimination or harassment while accessing homelessness services. Due to the prevalence of discrimination, in wider society as well as within homelessness services, people who identify as LGBTQ+ are often reluctant to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity when approaching housing for help.

This means an unknown number of people are either not properly assessed, or put through a potentially traumatising experience in pursuit of a roof over their head in a safe place.

It’s very hard to prove yourself. If you go without any LGBT charity [to help you], they will ask you to prove your sexuality. It’s very complicated

What is needed

We did hear of good practice and housing officers who treated applicants with basic respect, but even in Brighton, the city with the biggest LGBTQ+ population per capita in Britain, this is not always the case. Speaking to service providers and people with lived experience, it was clear that this obstacle is keenly felt in the community. Many, who should by rights be owed a duty of care, had been turned away, or chose never to approach the council in the first place. As one service provider told us:

If they haven't fled an unsafe environment within what the local authority views as a timely manner, really the options are very limited

What is needed is for housing officers to be trained generally in Trauma Informed Care and specifically in LGBTQ+ issues around homelessness, so they are able to provide an appropriate assessment. And where this fails, we need services that can advocate and advise on behalf of those who identify as LGBTQ+ who are experiencing homelessness.

But further than that, housing officers need to have safe solutions to offer this particular group. Our next blog on this topic will focus on the experiences of those who do end up in temporary accommodation.