Stonewall Housing has been around since 1983, and have helped thousands of LGBT with housing support, advice, and numerous other services over the years. We had an exclusive talk with Bob Green, Chief Executive of Stonewall Housing, to discuss their work.
Q: What made you want to do Stonewall Housing?
A: Stonewall Housing started in 1983 because young lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender (or LGBT) people need safe housing. We now have 6 houses in London where young LGBT people can live without fear, where people do not judge and where young LGBT people can find the strength to discover their full potential. We also offer an advice, advocacy and support service for LGBT people of all ages.
We have an advice helpline and offer legal housing advice and casework which has achieved the Advice Quality Standard. We can now offer support in people’s own home and are working with other agencies to open more shared housing options for people of all ages. We lead LGBT Jigsaw which is part of the London Youth Gateway which aims to get young people a wide range of support from a number of LGBT agencies around reporting hate crime, finding mental health support and finding accommodation and education, training or employment.
We also educate government and other housing agencies about LGBT homelessness and housing issues. For example, I sit on the Equality Board of the Homes and Communities Agency and we also host the LGBT Domestic Abuse Forum which seeks to improve how services meet the needs of LGBT people experiencing domestic abuse.
Q: How many people would you say you help per month?
A: On average we offer advice and support to about 150 LGBT people per month.
Q: How many people have you housed since you began?
A: Since 1983 we have housed over 1,500 young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and have offered advice and support to over 20,000 LGBT people in housing need.
Q: What would you say is the most common problem LGBT people face?
60% of our callers state that their housing issue is directly related to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the two biggest issues being domestic abuse and homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse, harassment and violence. More of our communities are experiencing family breakdown and relationship breakdown, which has risen by 40% compared to last year. 10% sleep on streets another 15% are sofa-surfing. 2/3 of our clients are under 25, under 21s increased by 1/3 in a year.
The majority of our clients are from black and minority ethnic communities and the numbers of people with disabilities, under 21 year olds and those over 50 are increasing. More bisexual people, trans people, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are now approaching our services. Also, more of our clients are experiencing financial hardship and living in poverty: more are relying on foodbanks or hardship fund payments.
Q: Will you be expanding to other parts of the UK?
Our advice and support services are funded to operate in London. We are in discussions with other LGBT organisations to support them to start similar services across the country. In 2014, we carried out a comparative study in Brighton, London and Manchester to review how homelessness and LGBT organisations were meeting the needs of LGBT rough sleepers. We found that many LGBT people who were sleeping on the streets were avoiding all services.
We host the Older LGBT Housing Network which has meetings across the country to bring older LGBT people together with housing and care providers to improve the services on offer to them and to consider if we can develop LGBT-affirmative housing that is available elsewhere across the world. The Big Lottery and Commonweal are funding us to carry out a feasibility study to find out if there is a demand for such housing in the UK and if so, what it would look like. I will be travelling to Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Los Angeles in August 2015, to see first hand how they have developed solutions and to inform the work we do in the UK.
Q: And finally, what steps do you think we need to take to help LGBT people in this country?
UNDERSTAND: We need to understand who LGBT people are. We are not all white, middle class. While there may be issues that we have in common there will be differences between lesbians, gay men, bisexual people and trans people. Different communities within our communities will have specific needs that should be addressed, for example, the younger, the older, people from ethnic minority communities, people with disabilities and those with religious belief. Also, some LGBT people are homeless, out of work or on low incomes and living in poverty. Many are often hidden and may avoid services because they think the services are not for them.
ASK: Organisations need to start asking about sexual orientation and gender identity so we have a better picture of our communities’ needs and start to address them intelligently. However, before that can happen, many organisations need a cultural change to understand more about LGBT people and the issues they face so we feel welcome in their services. Unfortunately too many LGBT people do not trust organisations and they avoid services and their needs then get worse.
DESIGN: Those who design and fund housing, support, health and care services need to involve LGBT people in the design and management of these services. Some LGBT people may want the choice of accessing LGBT-affirmative services but for many the choice does not exist. Services assume that by treating everyone the same that everyone’s needs will be met but our experience is that this approach has failed LGBT people in the past and many LGBT people would like to access services that are run by and for their own communities.