On Monday 17.10 is the international day for the eradication of poverty – on this occasion, the 20th night of the homeless is taking place in Finland. Seta’s international affairs committee interviewed two experts by experience about the meaning of “home” and ways to prevent homelessness among the LGBTQIA+ community.
TW: the text contains mentions of sexual assault and violence.
What does “home” mean to you?
Arvi: Home means everything, and it makes everything possible.
Home is a place of safety and escape – the importance of which was even more pronounced when Arvi was in mental health rehabilitation, and he was in need of a place of safety to retreat to, since he was not always able to be in the company of other people.
In his own words, Arvi states that he was experiencing “hidden homelessness”. He worked while experiencing homelessness; now he thinks that he wouldn’t accept school or a job in a similar situation anymore.
“The first point that makes everything possible is having a home”
According to Arvi, the absence of a place to call home also has a great impact on a person’s mental health, as homelessness creates constant stress and insecurity. Arvi spent nights with his friends when he was homeless.
Juha: Home is my own space, to which I have the key and control. It is a space to think and calm down. Home is a place where a LGBTQIA+ persons can start a safe family.
Juha became homeless five years ago due to a system error.
When Juha applied for financial support for housing, the application was not registered, and consequently, a decision could not be made. As a result, Juha lost his rental apartment and was left with nothing. Since then, Juha has struggled in the twists and turns of the Finnish bureaucracy and service system.
Did you have difficulties in finding a home? What happened?
“It has been a lot of trouble to find my own home”
Arvi is silent for a moment and thinks aloud how to express it briefly, but starts by telling that he is transgender, has transitioned, and is a former drug addict.
2016 is a turning point in Arvi’s life: that’s when started drug replacement therapy. Before durg replacement therapy, Arvi had been homeless and he was still homeless when starting therapy. After entering treatment, however, things gradually started to change – but his credit information had gone bad and he had been flagged in the national credit register, which made it difficult to find a home.
Arvi says that there are cities in which it is practically impossible to find a home with his background. Fortunately, he got into Oulu University, and through his studies was fast-tracked to get a home. Arvi considers student status to be an important matter and a way to get a home. It was the longest term Arvi has had and he was able to keep it during his studies.
When he had to move out after graduating, he again faced a difficult process of finding an apartment.
Arvi says that getting an apartment in the capital region feels impossible considering his background. That’s why he doesn’t dream of working or studying in Helsinki, since it would mean a long commute.
“It’s interesting how things that happened a long time ago, that don’t say anything about me today, are still having a heavy impact. ”
Arvi hopes that the law reform concerning the credit register comes into force; this would remove the flags in the credit register related to credit/payment failures that happened a long time ago.
However, Arvi says that he is lucky that he is “passing”, meaning that Arvi passes for a man and people cannot tell he is trans.
However, Arvi continues by saying that when looking for work, people with a trans background are sorted out first, and when there is no work, it becomes even more difficult to get an apartment.
Finding an apartment wasn’t a problem for Juha, but as a gay man experiencing homelessness, he has encountered many shortcomings in the service system.
“When I was homeless, I ended up having to shout at the social services, ‘I’m gay’.”
“Due to an error in the system, I ended up in a systemic failure condition. So, an error occurring in Kela’s system messed up my socio-economic situation. System errors occur, when the authorities do not meet the client, when the authorities do not cooperate with each other, and when legislation transfers the client from one place to another; rendering the client outside or on the fringes of the system.”
Juha says that when dealing with housing services, he faced stigmatization, and neither his individual support needs nor his identity were not taken into account. A big part of those experiencing homelessness are cis men dealing with a substance abuse problem.
Juha has faced violence and sexual violence in housing units because of his sexuality. He emphasizes that it is safer for him to be in the drug-free housing unit of the Diakonia Institute.
Juha has also experienced injustice in health care: He has not been able to access the HIV medication he needs because he is homeless, which has been interpreted as a risk because he may not have a safe place to store his medication. HIV medication should be taken at the same time every day, because taking medication irregularly can cause drug resistance.
“I live without HIV medication because of my situation, because I do not have a substance abuse problem, but I am gay, I have had to come out of the closet on the front page of Iltalehti, trying to get help. I have experienced five physical assaults and 11 situations of sexual violence in homelessness. I have been dissed when I tried to report sexual violence. It is impossible to describe the amount of mental violence one experiences as a homeless LGBTQIA person.
The worst was when I was placed in the countryside after a very brutal act of revenge: I was sent to the countryside, I didn’t meet any LGBTQIA+ people for over a year, I wasn’t allowed to talk about my sexuality. I experienced repeated sexual violence.”
What do you think should be improved? What should politicians do?
More education about different minority groups would be needed. It’s not about any special needs, but different needs.
As a trans person, it is also difficult to get services and help.
In his own words, Arvi lived in limbo and didn’t know what to do. Arvi didn’t want to seek treatment or help due to minority stress. More representatives of minorities would be needed for expert positions, so that help can be given by someone with authentic understanding of the group in question.
“I didn’t want to make myself feel worse”
Arvi remembers that in Oulu, the drug replacement care facility had a rainbow flag. This stuck in Arvi’s mind. “You didn’t have to explain yourself in the same way, people had received training and that reduced my stress considerably.”
It would also be important to study and map out long-term homeless.
Arvi points out that the trans perspective has been an invisible and silenced topic in the discussion of homelessness.
Arvi also points out that different groups of people experience homelessness in different ways, there is no one absolute way. It’s different to be a homeless cis-straight woman with substance abuse issues from being a cis-straight man, or a trans person.
Arvi would like you to stop and ask “what could be done about your specific situation”
Juha himself is actively involved in finding and building solutions. He is e.g. a candidate in next year’s parliamentary elections, and he has recently founded Saatenkaari-ikkuna ry with other people, which works to prevent LGBTQIA homelessness.
“I myself have stepped into politics and organization activities. I have a continuous discussion on the topic with other decision-makers. Homelessness is not a disease but a consequence.”
Juha also mentions an upcoming initiative, which focuses on homelessness caused by reasons other than substance abuse and mental health problems. He states that there should be a housing unit where people experiencing homelessness are treated equitably and met as human beings, and everyone feels safe. No one should feel like they are being forced to come out.
Juha also points out that there are shortcomings in the service system and that different institutions do not communicate with each other. He emphasises the shortcoming of assuming that all those experiencing homelessness have a substance abuse problem. He hopes that the service system takes people’s identity and individual needs into account.
“In Helsinki, homelessness is divided between adult social work and substance abuse work and psychiatric work. Adult social work buys outsourced services, and they are often dangerous for LGBTQIA+ people. I have had to obtain a medical certificate in 2020 about my homosexuality, stating I do not have a substance abuse or mental health problem. My situation continues because the authorities are afraid of admitting their mistake.”
Lastly, Juha stresses the vulnerable position of LGBTQIA+ people:
“LGBTQIA+ people experiencing homelessness significantly more often than others due to the lack of a support network (family). According to a Spanish study,, LGBTQIA+ people experiencing homelessness face 12 times as much sexual violence than other homeless people. In a situation of sexual assault, the LGBTQIA+ person experiencing homelessnes as a victim, is likely to be made the culprit. If I were raped, and the rapist would contract HIV, I would probably be convicted for spreading it, even if I were the victim.”