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Family Rejection Major Cause of LGBTI Homelessness – Report

18 April 2017 at 3:43 pm
Lina Caneva
Family rejection is a major driver of homelessness for LGBTI people, leading to them become homeless at a younger age with a greater reliance on friends rather than family for support, according to a new draft report.

Lina Caneva | 18 April 2017 at 3:43 pm


Family Rejection Major Cause of LGBTI Homelessness – Report
18 April 2017 at 3:43 pm

Family rejection is a major driver of homelessness for LGBTI people, leading to them becoming homeless at a younger age with a greater reliance on friends rather than family for support, according to a new draft report.

The stage one report, called Journeys Home, found that while the pathways to homelessness were very similar amongst all agencies’ clients, including family violence, mental health issues, substance abuse and financial stress, they were made more complex for LGBTI clients by the impact of discrimination and/or family rejection.

The philanthropically funded research pointed to community attitudes and ill-equipped service providers as adding to the factors around homelessness.

The project director from Melbourne University is Associate Professor Ruth McNair, who is a general practitioner, co-chair of the Victorian LGBTI Health and Human Services Working Group, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Foundation of Australia (GALFA), and founding member of the Rainbow Families Council and the Australian Lesbian Medical Association.

The seed funding came from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the Assia Altman Fund of the Australian Communities Foundation, Launch Housing, and GALFA with further funds from the Community Banking Sector and the Victorian government.

McNair told Pro Bono News that while anecdotal evidence suggested that family rejection was a major issue for LGBTI people the research had confirmed it and also showed the differences within these groups.

“It is much clearer that the trans and gender diverse people seem to have experienced rejection earlier even that of lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” McNair said.

“Intriguingly the bisexuals are also earlier [in becoming homeless] than the gay and lesbian groups. We still have to unpack this evidence but it appears they are homeless younger on average than anyone else.

“There is a big piece to be done on community and family education. It is largely about that [families] don’t understand it at all. Sexual orientation for most parents, well they get it, but with trans issues they just don’t often believe their kids or go a lot further than that and apply abuse around it.

“For many of these trans young people the rejection is not only of the person themselves but their identity. They feel like they have nowhere to go. There is no safe haven if you like.”

McNair said homeless services had also witnessed this complexity, particularly among trans clients, with a pattern of repeated episodes of homelessness.

“Service providers had a much greater awareness of the trans and gender diverse clients than the LGB clients, probably due to the physical appearance of trans clients. They were correctly aware that bisexual clients in particular are likely to be invisible in the services,” she said.

“We found important ‘within group’ differences between lesbian and gay and then bisexual people, which warrants further investigation. For example, bisexuals were at greater risk than LG people on a number of levels including greater experience of family violence,  [and they] had higher substance use and disability.

“Lesbian women were more likely to have experienced barriers to accessing welfare services. Women were more likely to use the homelessness service system, while men were more likely to use emergency services.”

McNair said while there was a growing awareness of the LGBT client group there was a general ignorance regarding their specific needs.

“The lack of knowledge on how to provide an inclusive service for these clients was striking,” she said.

“This resulted from a range of factors including lack of policy inclusion and therefore inadequate data collection, poor provider knowledge, increasing LGBT client diversity, competing demands in an underfunded sector, lack of LGBT-specific training, and limited LGBT specific referral networks.”

The report said there were also examples of LGBT-based discrimination within the housing sector such as by real estate agents, landlords, other residents in shared houses and rooming houses, particularly for trans people.

The report said these intersecting drivers were seen to lead to a cycle of recurrent homelessness that was worse for LGBT people.

However, McNair said there was also a deal of goodwill to become more inclusive.

Stage one of the report made several recommendations:

  • LGBTI inclusive practice guidelines for the housing and homelessness sectors. Data collection that includes sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, and is linked with the service funding agreements.
  • Mandatory training on LGBTI for all services – possibly linked with the family violence royal commission and their recommendation for all family violence services to undertake training to achieve a “rainbow tick” accreditation.
  • Development of a LGBTI safe housing network, including a possible single statewide LGBTI entry point for homelessness services.
  • Housing policy in Victoria to be LGBTI inclusive.

In reference to the inclusive practice guidelines McNair said they were in discussions with Homelessness Australia.

“There haven’t been any guidelines like this yet in Australia,” she said.

“We are in discussions with Homelessness Australia about this and we have worked up a project plan to develop nationally acceptable guidelines. We are going to have slightly different guidelines for the homelessness sector and for housing because there are different messages.”

She said in terms of having mandatory training, there was a big piece to be done around supporting estate agents and social housing groups who advocate for this population.

“There is a lot of unconscious bias that we hear from clients around them feeling like they are at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to finding rental accommodation,” she said.

McNair said the idea for a LGBTI safe housing network would be to get a central organising point.

“So if a person is identifying as being LGBT or I and finding it difficult to find a homelessness service or a house to rent then your central point would be a way to coordinate that,” she said.

“Who is a friendly real estate agent out there who might be in your area, or which social housing service has done training and which hasn’t? We would have the capacity to say these people have been trained and are a step up from those who have no idea.”

She said the homelessness sector was primed for action.

“They have started seeing so many clients who are LGB and trans and so we have been training up more organisations,” McNair said.

“They are saying: ‘We want to know how to react.’ There are definitely the old hangers-on to the old idea of treating everyone the same but many more are aware and are saying: ‘We have got to know how to deal with these issues and finance it properly and know how to assess which gender service these people can go into.’

“The big piece is how to support ‘families of origin’. The huge driver is family disruption and services are saying the best place for these young people is back at home but there is a big problem there. How can the service advocate for family support and family therapy.”

McNair said the final report was due in August.

“The guidelines project will happen from July to December and we will have them ready by early next year,” she said.

“We are still collecting data and we are still doing interviews. Out of all this will come our formal mechanism and policies around data collection and funding streams.”

She said the team was working with Homelessness Australia to produce national guidelines and with Swinburne University on the data analysis.

Stage One of Journeys Home can be found here.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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