The Outside Project - supporting LGBTIQ+ homeless people in London

Tuesday, 14 May 2019 - 11:07am

The Outside Project is a pan London, year round night shelter specifically for the LGBTIQ+ community. Project Director Carla Ecola discusses the project and how services can improve their support.

The Outside Project is the first of its kind in the UK. We work in partnership with Stonewall Housing, who have been supporting LGBTIQ+ homeless people in London for 35 years, and are funded by the community and the Mayor of London.

The project is a crisis night shelter service in response to those within the LGBTIQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer) community who feel endangered, who are homeless or ‘hidden’ homeless and feel that they are on the outside of services due to historical and present prejudice in society and in their homes.

We have a commitment to:

  • Empower our community
  • Provide a free, safe, inclusive & caring space for all LGBTIQ+ guests
  • Practically, professionally and emotionally support our guests
  • Develop positive relationships with services & strengthen support to the LGBTIQ+ community
  • Work to bridge the gap felt between our guests & the support available to them
  • Share our knowledge to educate others on the unique & complex needs of the LGBTIQ+ community
  • Advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights & needs within services
  • Promote a clean, safe and sober lifestyle within the LGBTIQ+ community
  • Grow into a full time, year-round service with permanent premises and more amenities

The LGBTIQ+ community typically don’t approach support services for fear of the trans/homo/biphobia that we have experienced in our youth and from our families. Support services don’t approach us because they are often not educated in how to support us, so they do not understand or meet our needs. Our community is often ‘hidden homeless’, finding temporary solutions with family members or friends, living in squats or other insecure accommodation, and not showing up in official figures. It is little wonder that the Still Out There report estimated that, of the homeless population in London, 25% are LGBTIQ+.

‘Prefer not to say’

Wider society has an internalised vision of what an LGBTIQ+ person looks like, which is often a stereotype based on media representation. Between this and patchy data collection, some homelessness organisations think they don’t have many, if any, LGBTIQ+ people accessing their service.

The Outside Project looked at CHAIN data from 2017 and found that, after heterosexual, the second largest sexuality was ‘prefer not to say’. Our community do not feel safe discussing their sexuality or gender identity when rough sleeping. Yet this ‘prefer not to say’ marker follows them into support services, meaning nobody approaches them to offer support. 

Consider, for example, that many LQBTIQ+ people who are homeless would ‘prefer not to say’ who their next of kin is at a first meeting. They may not be ready to talk or think about family if they have experienced trauma or shame that resulted in their homelessness. At The Outside Project, we often check back at different stages of our relationship with someone and their recovery from homelessness. This approach should be adopted with anyone who answers ‘prefer not to say’ in response to questions about sexuality and gender identity.

Consider how uncomfortable it is to hear: “This is a personal question, you don’t have to answer this, it’s just for our diversity monitoring, but are you homosexual?” Yet this is often how staff in homelessness services approach conversations about sexual and gender identity. Instead, staff can be respectful and direct, and show equal regard for all identities:

“How do you identify your gender? Male, female, non-binary, trans, other?”

“How do you identify your sexuality? Straight, bi, gay, lesbian, other?”

When staff are introducing themselves and partner agencies, they should be sure to include local LGBTIQ+ specific support services: “We work closely with [LGBTIQ+ support service] if this is something you’d like to know more about.”

Make sure there are visible signs of inclusion, perhaps a rainbow & trans flag in the corner of the form, lanyards or badges. Wearing these colours doesn’t necessarily identify you as being LGBTIQ+ but it identifies you as being an ally to our community. We gave lanyards to a homeless hostel in London. Within a few weeks several of their long stay clients came out as LGBTIQ+ to staff. There is no doubt that hiding their sexuality or gender identity had an impact on their recovery. 

We hope that reading this will inspire you to make your service more LGBTIQ+ inclusive. For more information about The Outside Project: http://lgbtiqoutside.org/the-project/ and look out for news of our central London community centre.

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You can find an introduction and resource list for staff to develop good practice and welcoming services for people who identify as LGBTIQ+ here.

Talk To Us

Carla Ecola

Project Director

The Outside Project is a pan London, year round night shelter specifically for the LGBTIQ+ community.