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Many LGBTQI+ homeless people are ‘very unsafe’ during coronavirus pandemic, says charity chief

PUBLISHED: 15:25 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 01:00 25 April 2020

On the street... rough sleeper portrayed by model Andrew [photos: Sam Mellish]

On the street... rough sleeper portrayed by model Andrew [photos: Sam Mellish]

Sam Mellish

Many LGBTQI+ homeless people are “very unsafe” and turning to “survival sex” during the Covid-19 lockdown, warns a charity chief.

Carla ran homeless shelter The Outside Project in Barking. Picture: Carla EcolaCarla ran homeless shelter The Outside Project in Barking. Picture: Carla Ecola

Carla Ecola is director of The Outside Project [TOP] which runs a 10-bed shelter and a community centre for LGBTQI+ homeless people at the former Clerkenwell Fire Station.

Carla says there are just 77 LGBTQI+ specific community housing bedspaces in London despite the fact at least half a million Londoners identify as coming from these communities.

Stonewall charity reports one in five LGBTQI+ homeless people – and 25 per cent of trans people alone – have experienced homelessness in their lives.

Earlier this month, TOP and Islington Council were on the cusp of leasing a 42-bed hotel in King’s Cross where rough sleepers or hidden homeless people could have self-isolated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the council pulled out because it says the space didn’t meet it’s requirements, and has since found alterative provision elsewhere – but these spaces aren’t LGBTQI+ specific.

Now Carla is lobbying central government to give the Greater London Authority (GLA) more funding to support marginalised groups, so TOP can afford to rent the hotel alone.

Carla told the Gazette: “A lot of people are having to return to family homes or maybe an area they feel unsafe.

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“We’ve had conversations with people who are having to return to a seaside town they escaped as a young Queer person and they’re having to go back, it’s traumatising. Especially for young people not ‘out’ to their family.

“You have connections to youth groups and spaces now closed down and they’re in a space not acting as themselves. Although they might be physically safe from the virus, the detriment to their mental health, or the threat of violence is making them very unsafe.

“Many people are not going to take that option, if they’ve already fled somewhere they’re not going to go back. They’re going to choose another option that’s probably just as unsafe. I that that’s why it’s quite a unique issue to our community in comparison to the general homeless population, our homelessness is very much linked to our oppression.”

Carla says the lockdown means people don’t have the usual options such as sofa surfing, saunas, late night restaurants or public transport, and some are turning to sex work or hook up apps for a place to stay.

She added: “Really the only option available is trying to use these hook up apps, and how dangerous is that?

“I think it has always been quite unique to the LGBT community, the use of apps, or bars and clubs, the use of survival sex. Because obviously sexual freedom within our community is a really positive thing but it can also be used as a tool when you’re homeless so it can become something quite damaging to people in a vulnerable position.”

The government has given local authorities £3.2million to rent hotel rooms or temporary accommodation for rough sleepers, or those at risk of rough sleeping, to self-isolate.

It has also made £750m available for charities – including £360m for those supporting vulnerable people.

But Carla says this money doesn’t account for the hidden homeless, and hasn’t yet gone towards creating safe spaces for LGBTQI+ homeless people, arguing this crisis has magnified the historic funding shortfall for these groups.

Carla added: “It’s really unfortunate to see people coming out of these hotels back on to the street. I’m speaking to someone at the moment who had been placed in a hotel. They really don’t feel safe there as a gay man. They have had horrible experiences before of living in these kind of environments so there’s definitely a level of re-traumatised feeling, and I am worried they’re going to return to the street because they see it as a safer option.”


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