This weekend on 17th of October we are focusing on homelessness. Seta´s Commitee of International Affairs interviewed two experts on LGBTIQ homelessness.
Robbie Stakelum is a policy officer with FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless and is responsible for the LGBTIQ perspective. Sari Rantaniemi works with LGBTIQ homelessness at Diakonissalaitos.
Robbie’s interview on video is in English and it is also in written form below. Sari´s interview is translated also below. Both interviews in Finnish here.
Robbie Stakelum, policy officer with FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless
I am a Robbie Stakelum, policy officer with FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless and I lead on our work on LGBTIQ homelessness.
Why should service providers and policymakers in Europe pay more attention to LGBTQ youth homelessness and what are the reasons for LGBTQ youth homelessness?
I think it’s really important that homeless service providers and policy makers start focusing more on LGBTQ issues within our broader work on the topic of homelessness. We know from data, that we’ve had for many years from North America, that between 20 to 40% of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTIQ. In the last year, we have gotten data from the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) which gives us a very similar insight into to the extent of LGBTIQ homelessness in Europe. For example, the FRA estimates that about 1 in 5 LGBTIQ people have had and experienced homelessness, they estimate that 1 in 3 trans people have had experiences of homelessness and this rises to about 40% of intersex people. And I think, the challenge that we face in our work as a homeless sector, is that often we hear and we see these figures and they feel very out of sync with our reality. Because LGBTIQ homelessness is also a hidden form of homelessness. We know for example when LGBTIQ people come into services, they often don’t feel safe. They have experiences of homophobia and transphobia. We know there is an intersection between their sexual orientation and gender identity and other experiences of racism, misogyny, sexism etc.
If you ask a homelessness providers, ‘how many people do you work with who identify as LGBTIQ’, they would say ‘very little’. And yet we have independent research that across North America and Europe shows us that LGBTIQ people are way overrepresented within our services. The causes for that are many, and the triggers of homelessness can be very very different for many different people. We know that there are causes around coming out and families evicting young people. For example, when they come out as gay/lesbian or when they are starting transition that can also be a trigger for young people to be formally evicted from their families into homelessness.
We also know that LGBTIQ young people experience discrimination in the rental market, so even when they go to the rental market in certain countries, they can’t get a rental lease, if they’re seen as particularly queer – for lack of a better phrase – or landlords don’t want to rent to them or people who are living in apartments don’t want to bring in another housemate who might seem different to them. So, we see further experiences of homophobia and transphobia.
What solutions do you propose, based on your work, to tackle the issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness in Europe?
In terms of what can actually be done, we know there is lots of experiences from France, England, the United States and Canada around creating services that are more inclusive. And so, on the surface of that, that can mean having a statement of inclusivity on display, it can mean having a rainbow flag, it might mean having queer art, it’s about creating a space when an LGBTIQ young person walks into it, they feel like this is an environment that’s for me.
but it’s more than that. You can’t just smack a rainbow flag up on a wall, and say that’s it, we’re done, we’re inclusive. You need to do trainings, you have to do trainings – and not just with social workers and the people who work with young people, we need to do it with social workers, all the staff of the centres: board of directors, senior management so that everybody fundamentally understands LGBTIQ identity because the specific needs that come from that community have to be met and understood by everybody for the service to really be inclusive and to empower those people to speak about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
I think, when we look at what can we all be doing around LGBTIQ homelessness: Better data collection, better training for homeless services, monitoring what is available in terms of service provision: do we have enough housing, what is the type of housing we have created, is it segregated, is it trans inclusive, have we created health services that trans people can access? Do we have partnerships with the right mental health professionals that can provide the needed support in an inclusive way?
Sari Rantaniemi, Diakonissalaitos
Hey! My name is Sari Rantaniemi and I work at Deaconess Foundation. I am developing homeless work there. I use they/ them pronouns.
According to ARA statistics, there were more than 4,300 homeless people in Finland in 2020, and 850 of them were young people under the age of 25.
According to a study by the Fundamental Rights Agency , there is also homelessness among LGBTIQ people in Finland, i.e. every 5th LGBTIQ person has experienced homelessness or the threat of homelessness in their lives. For transgender people, this is about 30%.
The government wants to eliminate homelessness in Finland by 2027, meaning that everyone has their own home by then. This means also that homelessness among LGBTIQ people must be identified and everything related to it must be looked at, as well as how LGBTIQ people can be supported.
The situation of young people in particular is vulnerable, as they become independent and move away from home in a situation where they may still need social or even financial support, e.g. from their parents.
Also, not everyone may have adequate housing skills or an understanding of what it means to run their own household and finances. If there is no such support from home, young people are pretty alone.
The biggest reason for LGBTIQ youth homelessness and threat of homelessness is broken family relationships. It is really difficult for some parents to accept the identity of their children, and this can lead to the young person experiencing both mental and physical violence at home.
In addition, at school or hobbies or at the place of residence, LGBTIQ youth may face bullying and discrimination, all of which then affect the fact that LGBTIQ youth move away from home earlier than other youth.
In order for us to achieve the goal of everyone having their own home here in Finland in a few years’ time, I think we should also recognize the issue of LGBTIQ homelessness and what it means here in Finland – and more information and research is needed on this issue.
Rainbow people under-utilize social and health services and that is why I would also like our SOTE staff to be trained on LGBTIQ issues as well, such as what minority stress means and how it affects everyday functioning.
Youths would benefit from low-threshold services, which it would be easy and safe for a LGBTIQ youth to come to, as well as hands-on support that accompanies them, to have someone accompany them to services, if they have a hard time going there alone.
Then, I also think that we need a change in the attitudes of all of us: these young people often experience multiple grounds of discrimination, and the stigma of homelessness should be reduced. Homelessness is not anyone’s personal choice, neither does it define a person, but it is only a situation in life, and this is also the case for LGBTIQ persons.