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LGBT and homelessness

[29 June 2015]

The journey from childhood, to youth, and on to adulthood can be fraught in even the best of home and family circumstances. For those who, additionally, are coming to terms with confusing sexuality and gender issues the outcomes can be chaotic.

Research conducted by The Albert Kennedy Trust in 2014/15 reported:

  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) young people are more likely to find themselves homeless than their non LGBT peers, comprising up to 24% of the youth homeless population.
  • LGBT homeless youth are highly likely to have experienced familial rejection, abuse and violence (69%, AKT 2015).
  • Whilst homeless, LGBT youth are significantly more likely to experience targeted violence, sexual exploitation, substance misuse, and physical & mental health problems than other homeless youth.

In the run-up to Hull Pride 2015 (18th July 2015), and as facebook users filter their profile pictures multicoloured in response to the United States legalisation of gay marriage, we offer this story to add to understanding of how sexuality and gender issues impact upon homelessness.

Michelle's story, in her own words:

The first place I called home lasted nine months. Before I'd reached my second birthday I would have been passed around emergency foster homes, ending up at a kids home in the North of England. Fast-forward 14 years and once again I am homeless, living precariously after a terrible and seemingly irrevocable breakdown with my adoptive parents. They couldn't cope with my depression - Mum would describe a 'black cloud' that suffocated the rest of the family.
Michelle Dee Hull
Thanks to Wagon's Coffee Bar Hull for hosting our shoot. :o)
I was desperate, I was distraught, and I was different.
Adolescence is hard enough for anyone, but when you are suffering from, as yet undiagnosed, Gender Dysphoria, it becomes incredibly and increasingly traumatic.

What did it mean for me to be homeless?

When I should have been coming out as trans, and having all those deep and meaningfuls with supportive friends, I was more concerned with not drawing attention to myself and not giving anyone a reason to attack me. Hostel life can be very much like I imagine borstals to have been like. Keeping your head down, getting on with it, learning the ropes, understanding the different layers of hierarchy - who it was safe to talk to and associate with. I've been in half a dozen of these places, some better than others admittedly, some with a definite plan to support the residents, some that existed purely as a drugged-out doss house. There I was aged eighteen trying to work out how to reconcile how I was feeling, in a place where danger lurked behind every corner, and one step one way or another could lead you down an inescapable path.

Alone in my room I imagined a life as Michelle, I'd try to do my hair - in something of a girlish style. Looking down from the fifth floor at the rush of lives happening below me I was so very, very alone.

I didn't trust anyone, I couldn't say anything, I'd learned aged 12 there were certain people who you do not share these kinds of things with. At sixteen, on the streets in the classic sense, I was learning not to tell anyone anything - sharing information about yourself could be used against you later down the line. Once I remember saying something - boasting probably - about my parents being well off, and for the next two weeks the big boys were my best friends whilst they planned how they would kidnap me and get my parents to pay the ransom.
I held on to Michelle. I talked to her like she was my only friend.
I continued to bounce around the hostel system, sometimes with a guy friend in tow, sometimes not. It is a very transient experience, different characters come and go and you find yourself latching on to someone, knowing that any moment something in their life could change, and they will disappear just as quickly as they arrived.

In one place I learned that I could throw myself on the mercy of certain sympathetic staff members. Night staff had a way of being slightly less rigid about the rules somehow. Sometimes I could stay up all night talking about my confused gender status, smoking, and drinking black coffee. These early morning sessions were so very precious, and without knowing it I was inching ever closer to making that momentous step of talking to a medical specialist who could advise me. Those dedicated staff members put up with my endless: 'Oh if only this, if only that, it's not fair, why, why, why... if I tell you something, you promise you won't laugh?'

I remember securing a place in all-female hostel. I was out, identifying as female by now. I'd done the name change; the living in-role; the psychiatric testing; the examinations; the surgery – but then had a catastrophic collapse due to unregulated post-operative painkiller withdrawal, tempered by self medicating with strong cider. I was more than a little anxious about how the other residents would respond to me. It was chaos.

Very vulnerable, just six months out of surgery, I was thrown into a volatile place that could erupt explosively with no warning. I received my fair share of abuse - other women demanding very loudly in front of me how it could be right that I, a non-biological female, could be in such a place.

'Homeless and Hopeless,' that's what my paint splattered begging board read. No hope, no future, no thought past surviving the next hour, day, or week. Living a chaotic lifestyle there is no headspace for creating plans, building routines, building a better future. There was a time when the biggest concern was getting enough money during the day to get the friendly bottle of QC sherry at the end of it, to knock you out till morning.

At aged 16 I had lived in a shed. It wasn't your average garden shed it had fragments of carpet on the wooden floor, bits of furniture, a camping stove, even curtains at the window. It belonged to a school friend and from there I revised and took my mock GCSEs; did quite well as I recall. The shed life didn't last and after a number of temporary bed-spaces I was placed in a sort of halfway house for adolescents. A well-meaning couple ran it, and I began there with all kinds of good intentions about learning life skills, cooking, washing, and budgeting. Six weeks after I arrived the house-mum suffered a massive heart attack and died. Her sudden departure threw the house into disarray and although I remained for another four or five months I was fast learning that nothing lasts, nothing is permanent, particularly nothing good.

It would be many years later when a phone call inside a familiar white phone box would set me on the road to becoming the outgoing, enthusiastic Michelle Dee whose words and arts blogs are read everyday by different people across the world.

I am happy to report that my relationship with my adoptive parents is on a much stronger footing. And despite the fact that one parent accepts my trans status but doesn't understand, and the other understands but doesn't accept, I know there is still time for change.

Michelle Dee
June 2015