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October 3, 2022

We can't afford to wait to fill in the gaps in evidence on LGBTQ+ homelessness

Dr Lígia Teixeira

In this blog post, Dr Ligia Teixeira, Chief Executive of the Centre for Homelessness Impact, talks about the importance of filling the gaps in our evidence about what works to end homelessness in the light of the publication of our latest policy paper on Sexuality, gender identity and homelessness.

To understand fully what works to end a societal challenge such as homelessness we must first acknowledge what we don’t yet know. Identifying gaps in the evidence base is a crucial part of the process of mapping what must be done to end homelessness for good. This enables people working in research to target activity where it can have the most impact. It allows those planning and delivering services to reexamine current practices and assumptions according to the strength or weakness of relevant evidence. And, it can prompt reflection on how fuller and more robust data can be collected to further our understanding and improve the quality of services.

There are many reasons why people who identify as LGBTQ+ may be at greater risk of homelessness. Despite a significant liberalisation of attitudes and legislation relating to sexuality in the past three decades, sexual and particularly gender variant identity still generates prejudice and, sometimes, hostility, harassment and worse. Young people who feel uncomfortable to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity may leave their family home before they might otherwise have done so or be forced to leave. They are more likely to enter local authority care, which carries a higher likelihood of subsequent homelessness. They are more likely to experience poor mental health, another factor associated with homelessness. Accessing homelessness services may also present additional challenges or complexities for people who identify as LGBTQ+ meaning they are less likely to receive timely or appropriate support.

As our latest paper demonstrates, quantifying this picture is not straightforward. Much relevant data is incomplete or, at best, partial. Highlighting the weakness of the knowledge  base on the instances and experiences of homelessness among people who identify as LGBTQ+ is not, however, intended to be a counsel of despair but the opposite. It is a call to action, for deliverers and commissioners of services, for policy makers, for researchers and funders to act with urgency to fill these gaps in our understanding. 

Nor can we afford to wait while this happens. Ending homelessness for good will require the design, testing and evaluation of multiple new approaches for relieving and preventing homelessness among specific groups. People who identify as LGBTQ+ are a large and important group for whom we can act now to test the effectiveness of innovative interventions to establish which have the most impact in reducing the risk and shortening the experience of homelessness. Trials might, for instance, test new approaches to case management for LGBTQ+ people who are experiencing homelessness or improved access to more bespoke health services adapted to their needs.        

One of the obstacles to ending homelessness for good is that it is all too often associated with stigma, which acts as a bar to mobilising public and political support for more concerted action. This can be doubly so for people who identify as LGBTQ+ and who experience homelessness. The way to confront and overcome stigma is to create the conditions for better understanding of an issue or issues, supported by better evidence, and through openness and compassion. This is the way that we at the Centre for Homelessness Impact approach all our work. 

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