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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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November 01 2020

Queer homelessness activist Carla Ecola explains what motivates their work

Carla Ecola is founding Director of the Outside Project which is the UK’s first LGBTQI+ community shelter and centre. They also set up STAR refuge (for people fleeing domestic abuse). Since their mid 20s Carla’s work with homeless people has been inspired by their own experience of being homeless, without actually realising that squatting on the rave scene made them homeless.

“I came to London from Birmingham in my early 20s. Like a lot of LGBT people, I was just looking for a fresh start, but knowing that we needed to be in a city that would be safe for us and we could connect.” But being short of cash doesn’t make for safe housing.

“Once we were in a site in Mile End that was going to be demolished for the Olympic Village. There were a lot of squatters – young people with no money, no guidance and a lot of drama. That’s the thing about being homeless and not recognising yourself as homeless or that the people around you are homeless. We were all just partying and pretending that everything is OK. You don’t want to be that person who fails moving to London.

With a new outreach worker during lockdown the Outside Project had two hotels in central London: one exclusively LGBTQI+, and the other for people with higher support needs.

To try and get their head sorted Carla went into the Crisis Skylight Centre on Commercial Street to use their art studios and do tai chi. “They were very set on the idea that I was going to resolve my homelessness. But I wasn’t ready to leave my squat ‘family’ and scared of the whole idea that I was ‘homeless’, but within that one conversation I was asking, ‘How did you get your job?’ They sent me information about working with vulnerable people and a college course which was all about volunteering in the homelessness sector. So, I ended up as a homeless young person working in a homelessness service in London.

“Four years ago, I wanted to move on from working on that front line, to support young hidden homelessness for the LGBTQI+ community,” says Carla. First step was to run an LGBTQI+ pilot, in a tour bus, as a winter shelter to demonstrate there was a need for LGBTQI+ people who had higher support needs. I knew they weren’t willing to engage about mental health or drug or alcohol because they thought they just ‘need a place to crash’.

‘I gathered some of my people – who’d been a big inspiration over the five years I’d worked with them at Stonewall Housing and LGBTQI+ activist groups who were looking to open squats that winter. I thought you could do this in a different way, bringing that commitment from activist groups and the homelessness sector to create this service.

Then in partnership with Stonewall Housing, Carla secured a £50,000 grant to run a night shelter from the Mayor’s Fund Innovation project, which opened on Christmas eve 2018.

Since then the project has moved into Clerkenwell Fire Station (April 2019) and opened a community space. “It gives you a step in the door to maybe start talking about your homelessness. LGBTQI+ people don’t recognise that they are homeless as the image is a withered old man in a sleeping bag. We’re what the sector calls hidden homeless. But look at the stats: the street homeless population is the tip of the iceberg. The majority are in temp accommodation, B&B, sofa surfing, sleeping in squats or insecure housing with dodgy landlords. They are technically homeless but not recognised by themselves or the state or the services.”

Keep safe

  • If you are experiencing domestic abuse contact the National LGBTIQ+ Helpline (Galop) on 0800 999 5428
    or email  See
  • If you are homeless because of domestic abuse, then go directly to Stonewall Housing
  • Star Refuge, opened by the Outside Project, is the first official domestic abuse LGBTQI+ refuge in London. It was funded by MoPac (Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime). Referral via Stonewall Housing and Galop.
  • Find help and ways to use the virtual community centre at:
  • Also see LGBTQI+ listings in our centre pages