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Let's go outside

July 25 2018
 When I read up on gay life it said somewhere to be prepared for some abuse. It did not enter my head that it could come from someone at home who you love. © Denise Collins When I read up on gay life it said somewhere to be prepared for some abuse. It did not enter my head that it could come from someone at home who you love. © Denise Collins

Carla Ecola, founder of the UK's first LGBTIQ+ crisis/homeless shelter and community centre, talks hidden homelessness.

Carla Ecola, founder of the UK's first LGBTIQ+ crisis/ homeless shelter and community centre, The Outside Project, talks hidden homelessness.

Like many young LGBTIQ+ people, Carla moved to London to escape difficult life experiences, then found herself lost in the rave and squat scene for several years. It was her experience of hidden homelessness – the factors that lead to it and the inaccessibility of services she had attended and later worked in – which motivated her to create The Outside Project, the UK's first LGBTIQ+ crisis/ homeless shelter.

“I was hidden homeless myself from my teens to my mid-late 20s. I then worked in the homeless sector and I could see why I didn’t feel comfortable accessing those services. I went to Crisis day centre in Whitechapel, but I only went there once because I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t think I was that type of homeless person, so I really distanced myself and carried on my own path. I was 30 by the time I moved in with my wife into our own place and straight away I had this real sort of calm. I really reflected on my journey, what services there are or aren’t and what could have been different,” she says.

For Carla, education is at the heart of why many in the LGBTIQ+ homeless community find homelessness services inaccessible.

“When we’re growing up and self-identifying our gender or our sexuality, not having that representation causes internalised issues that then grow. The over-representation of people experiencing homelessness in our community is not because of us, but because of the world around us and feeling unable to navigate within it,” she adds.

Without access to this information the general public and also workers in services are uninformed about the best ways to support those identifying as LGBTIQ+.

“Services need trained staff who understand the specific needs of our community. If the workers themselves don’t feel comfortable talking about sexuality or gender identity, then the client is not going to either, and if you’re not talking relationships and sex then you're not talking about sexual health, domestic violence or hate crime."

Carla’s astute insights identified the need for The Outside Project: a grassroots, activist movement which started in February 2017 to deliver the UK's first LGBTIQ+ crisis/ homeless shelter. “It really was a mini-community within the shelter. There was great peer-support with people that had never really been a part of our community because they came out and then became homeless.”

Now in partnership with Stonewall Housing, the Outside Project’s year-round shelter will soon be in reach. “It will be fully accessible for our community and anybody else who is questioning. Of course, we’ll still have our 12-bed bus but the Centre will have 10–15 more bed spaces for people with more complex needs,” explains Carla.

The Outside Project provides much needed optimism and activism to bring visibility and inclusion to the hidden homeless LGBTIQ+ community. So if you’re hidden homeless and you’re “done with the sofa” and you’re “done with the hall”, let’s go outside.

Go figure

• 24% of homeless young people identify as LGBT Albert Kennedy Trust
• 77% believe coming out to their parents was the main factor for their homelessness Albert Kennedy Trust
• One in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the past 12 months Stonewall

Need to know

• LGBTIQ+ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning
• Two-thirds of people who approach Stonewall Housing for advice state that their housing problem is directly related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
• The Outside Project offers support for LGBTIQ+ people, see @LGBTIQoutside
• Antidote, LGB&T drug and alcohol support service
• Galop, LGBT+ anti-violence charity
• Stonewall Housing, LGBT housing services and support