CN: LGBT+ youth homelessness, death, homophobia, violence, mental illness; mentions of trauma, familial abuse, sexual abuse, forced marriage, substance abuse, conversion therapies
LGBT+ youth are described as one of the most disenfranchised and marginalised groups in society; a reality which exacerbates the challenges they face when made homeless. Yet homelessness and its associated problems should not be regarded as a natural function of a person’s sexuality or gender identity, but as a consequence of a society that does not treat them fairly or equally. AKT recognises this stark reality and through their work the trust empowers and supports their clients so that they can reintegrate into society and regain the stability and independence they deserve.
Lisa Davies, a senior practitioner at AKT, came to speak about the work the Albert Kennedy Trust does in helping LGBT+ homeless youth on Monday 7th March. Lisa has worked at the trust for the last 7 years, initially as a case worker before being promoted to senior practitioner and now manages service provision in the London office.
AKT was founded in Manchester in 1989 by Cath Hall. The charity was named after Albert Kennedy, a 16-year-old gay man who was a runaway from a children’s home when he fell to his death from a car park whilst being chased by several attackers in a suspected homophobic attack. Cath, a foster carer, admitted that she could not meet the full range of needs of LGBT+ young people in her care and thus, the charity was founded under the remit of preventing young LGBT+ people who were in care or homeless from facing homophobia and social exclusion.
Almost thirty years on, there are now offices in Manchester (1989), London (1996), and Newcastle (2013). They provide help to young LGBT+ people between the ages of 16-25 who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, fleeing violence and/or living in a hostile environment. AKT is still a small charity, with only 16 members of staff across the 3 offices. Their work force is provided by over 200 volunteers, and annually they take over 1,500 calls, deliver 1,000 hours of mentoring, and provide accommodation resulting in over 8,000 nights off the street. They are also self-sufficient, receiving no government funding, with all funding through private donations and fundraising events.
It is estimated that 15,000-20,000 young people in the UK are homeless, many of whom are ‘hidden homeless’ and are not visible on the streets because they engage in discreet practices, such as sofa surfing or survival sex. Yet, LGBT+ youth are overrepresented within the youth homeless population, with more than 24% identifying as LGBT+, even though they only constitute about 6-10% of the population. Transgender young people are also over-represented, accounting for 16% of AKT’s clients. It is believed this over-representation of trans youth amongst their clients is due to more young people identifying as trans and non-binary due to wider acceptance and exposure of trans and non-binary identities in society. Furthermore, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) individuals comprise 70% of the London office’s clients. This over-representation is often cited as being due to different cultural and religious sensitivities within BME communities, resulting in higher levels of social exclusion amongst LGBT+ BME youth.
Family relationship breakdown is the leading cause of youth homelessness, which is often worsened when young people are thrown out or leave due to rejection of their LGBT+ identity. AKT (2015) reports that 69% of their clients are highly likely to have experienced familial rejection, abuse, and violence, and many people approach the trust when they have been completely cut off by their family and friends. Without a supportive network, most are resigned to incredible social isolation, unable to locate accommodation, education, or work. Moreover, nearly half of young people seen by the trust are affected by mental health issues such as depression or anxiety and is often in response to much deeper trauma, such as sexual abuse and exploitation, forced marriage, substance abuse, and exposure to conversion therapies.
AKT provides various support to LGBT+ homeless youth as well as wider social and professional engagement. Their primary source of aid is supported lodgings and foster carers, rigorously trained during a 6-month period, for clients in need of accommodation. Their strategy of care also means that any young person who presents as homeless, at risk of homelessness, or living in a hostile environment, will be given accommodation through supported accommodation, hostels, liaison with other housing agencies or the London Purple Door project. They also carry out advocacy work through training professionals, such as housing associations and local authorities in order to educate people on LGBT+ terminology and also how to work with homeless LGBT+ youth.
The trust collaborates with other charities and is a member of the Jigsaw network, which includes Stonewall housing, who provides help to LGBT+ individuals aged over 25, and Galop, an organisation that deals with the criminal justice system and hate crime. They were previously linked to PACE, an LGBT+ mental health charity, which unfortunately was forced to close due to funding difficulties, a worrying prospect for a population where almost half suffer from depression and anxiety.
The continued dedication of AKT over the last 30 years has provided a sanctuary for some of society’s most vulnerable people. Through their advocacy and housing support they ensure that the most vulnerable amongst LGBT+ youth receive the help they need during such trying times. In future years AKT hopes to continue expanding their services, ideally opening offices in Birmingham and Scotland. However, this will only be possible if funding permits and as such, they demand more public donations to help more LGBT+ youth who are homeless or at risk. If you would like to donate to the trust or find out more about what they do or how you can help please find them online at www.akt.org.uk.
Also, please check out the “Hope & Home” social awareness campaign zine, which includes this article, via this link: https://issuu.com/hopehomechop/docs/zine/1.
Shaun Palmer, GR. Contributor