"I always said to myself that I don’t care if everyone hates me," says Jovanie Morrison, "as long as my family and my mum loves me, that’s fine. But I didn’t get that.”
Morrison says he knew he was "special" when he was six-years old, and was aware he was gay by the age of 12. That's when he first considered taking his own life.
“My mum said to me 'if you are gay or ever become gay, you might as well leave my household. The only way you could come out is when you're in the grave.'” Rejected by his family, Morrison eventually ended up homeless.
"I was beaten with an iron, I got punched, I literally got kicked out. There was blood coming down my head and I felt like that was the end of my life."
A quarter of the UK's homeless youth are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), according to a survey carried out last year by the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity which supports young LGBT homeless people in crisis. The Trust estimates that an alarming 4,800 young LGBT people are living on our streets, or in hostile environments.
The survey was carried out over 473 housing providers in England, Scotland and Wales and interviewed homeless youths between the ages of 16 and 26. It found that 69 per cent of homeless LGBT youth were forced out of their homes by their families; the same number also said that mental, emotional or sexual abuse from a family member played a part in their homelessness, while another 62 per cent said that they had experienced aggression or physical violence at home. Homeless LGBT youth, the survey revealed, are also much more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to participate in substance abuse and fall prey to sexual exploitation on the streets.
I was lucky. My family were very supportive when I came out, so stories like Morrison’s and the survey’s statistics make for depressing reading. With same-sex marriage now legal in England, Wales and Scotland, it's easy to think that life is getting better for all LGBT individuals, but it's those under the radar who require the most help, especially from housing providers.
"After 25 years witnessing the rejection and abuse of LGBT youth just for being brave enough to come out to their peers and family, this report is a much-needed call to action for government, housing providers, and everyone concerned with young peoples’ wellbeing," said Tim Sigsworth, CEO of AKT, when the results of the charity's survey were published.
AKT wants the government to do more by making it mandatory for housing providers to ask their users about their sexual orientation, allowing them to target LGBT individuals in need. It also wants staff to be trained properly on the needs of LGBT youth.
It’s easy for most of us to observe the increasing homelessness issue in the UK from a privileged position, but there is much more we can do to help young LGBT people like Harry Skuse, who became homeless in 2013 and spent a year in emergency accommodation (including a night sleeping rough).
After contacting AKT, Skuse eventually moved into the home of David Henley Jones, one of the carers in AKT’s supported lodgings scheme which matches carers with lesbian, gay bisexual and trans young people who are homeless, living in a hostile environment or in crisis. Carers can be LGBT couples, single people or families with children as well as non-LGBT applicants who can provide an empathetic and affirmative relationship and have a good understanding of the type of issues young LGBT people face. AKT uses the national Foster Care Minimum Standards as the baseline and guide for assessing and training potential new carers.
“I read an article in a couple of newspapers about AKT and having volunteered and been a non-executive Director at [the homeless charity] Centrepoint, I offered to volunteer in any capacity I could,” says Henley Jones. “They told me that what they really needed was accommodation in central London, people with a spare room. So after leaving a job where I travelled quite a bit, followed by six months of training with AKT, I was finally able to offer Harry a home.” Skuse is now on an enterprise scheme and has started his own business.
Despite the legal advances with the Equality Act and Equal Marriage Act, wider attitudes towards gay people are obviously still harder to shift. Why else is the number of homeless LGBT people, 24 per cent of the total of homeless individuals, so high?
Bob Green, chief executive of Stonewall Housing, which provides housing support for LGBT people, says: “The numbers of people calling Stonewall Housing for advice and support is increasing and is now at its highest ever level, at over 1,800 calls per year. Sixty per cent 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.
“Two thirds of our clients are under 25 and the under 21s contacting us increased by a third in a year," he continues. "More trans people, bisexual people, people from BME backgrounds and more refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are calling us each year.”
Jovanie Morrison’s story formed part of AKT’s Winter appeal, utilising the hashtag #NoRoomForHate to raise awareness of LGBT homelessness – and vital funds – across social media. After contacting AKT in 2014, he was able to access their Purple Door housing project, which takes LGBT young people out of danger and off the streets. They stay in a safe house for approximately 21 days whilst specialist workers provide a bespoke intervention which covers longer-term accommodation, support, mentoring, advocacy and therapeutic care.
Morrison is now 22, living in London and an ambassador for the Albert Kennedy Trust.
Article written by Patrick McAllenan of The Telegraph; to view in its original format, please click here.