Why the UK housing market is brutal if you’re young, LGBT and homeless

Published online today by Guardian Housing Network

Young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have long been over-represented among the homeless, with research from the Albert Kennedy Trust finding that this demographic comprises up to 24% of the young homeless population. Recent government changes to housing benefit policy are further exacerbating homelessness and housing problems among this group.

While conducting sociological research in a London day centre, I saw many cases of young LGBT people leaving their homes because of discrimination or homophobic abuse from family and friends. As well as coping with the experiences common to other young homeless people of finding shelter and support, young LGBT people faced additional hardships. Transphobia and homophobia can be an issue (pdf) in temporary housing. One young trans person spoke of the difficulties of going through gender transition while living in a hostel, a place with little privacy, telling me: “It’s hard to keep secrets in places like that.” For those sleeping rough this is even more difficult. Just having a shower in a day centre can be risky for a trans person (pdf).

Changes in eligibility for housing benefit are transforming the rights of younger homeless people to access a place of their own. These reforms began with a rule that most people under 35 can only claim housing benefit for a bedroom in a shared house. This causes particular difficulties for young trans homeless people. Michael Nastari, housing advice manager at Stonewall,said: “Trans people under 35 are likely to have to make a decision about what is most important to them, their safety, their identity or housing. These young people have to navigate a way through a housing market that doesn’t have anything available for them.”

Once housing benefit for 18- to 21-year-olds is scrapped, young people’s options will decrease even further.

It is already difficult for LGBT homeless people who do not feel safe in their family home or home town to relocate. While local authorities in England and Wales have a duty of care to provide housing for people who fall into the category of priority need, the majority of single homeless people do not come under this category (pdf). In theory, those at risk of violence should be considered in priority need, but a report by Crisis (pdf) found that in practice these guidelines are not always followed correctly.

The cumulative effect of cuts on a range of services are disproportionately affecting LGBT homeless people. They are more likely to have additional support needs (pdf) related to mental health and substance misuse, but hostels are finding it increasingly difficult to provide accommodation and support for people with medium to high support needs. Meanwhile, many other voluntary organisations that support LGBT people, including counselling and mental health services, are also struggling because of funding cuts. This trend is exemplified by the closure of the long established LGBT mental health charity Pace earlier this year.

While remaining LGBT organisations do important work in educating housing providers and homeless services on good practice, it is difficult to mitigate the effects of shrinking local authority budgets, a brutal housing market and the curtailing of young people’s eligibility for benefits. The coming housing benefit changes will force more LGBT young people to risk their safety for a roof over their heads.

Keeping one eye on the bus: a tribute to Doreen Massey

First published on Street Signs the blog for the Centre for Urban and Community Research here

My friend Hannah once handed me a badge with a woman’s face on it, she’d been at a feminist geography workshop. ‘I tried to get you Doreen Massey, but they ran out straight away’. This is one of the many things that have popped into my head since learning of Doreen Massey’s death on Friday. On hearing of her death I discounted it as a rumour. How could someone who is so embedded and such a vital part of things be gone?

Doreen Massey’s influence for me is less like a badge worn and more like a name running through a stick of rock. Her thinking is fundamental to the way I interpret the world. I never met her – I always assumed I would, it never occurred that there might be a time limit on this – and so I have encountered her only through her work. There will be many tributes this week from those who knew Doreen Massey as a teacher, activist, colleague and from those of us whom she has inspired in different ways. This tribute of my own is not exhaustive but just a piece of that jigsaw puzzle of appreciation.

Doreen Massey’s writing on how places are shaped through the movement of capital and people has taught us so much about the macro processes that shape cities, for example, in ‘World City’ how the movement of capital distorts not only London but also the places around it. Theoretical writing on cities can feel disembodied and detached but Doreen Massey’s work doesn’t feel like that. I think this is about how she also saw things from the perspective of the street or the bus and uses this to tell us about power and how people are differentially positioned. Here is an example from ‘Space, Place and Gender’:

‘I can remember very clearly a sight which often used to strike me when I was nine or ten years old. I lived then in the outskirts of Manchester, and ‘Going into Town’ was a relatively big occasion; it took half an hour and we went on the top deck of a bus. On the way into town we would cross the wide shallow valley of the River Mersey, and my memory is of dank, muddy fields spreading away into a cold misty distance. An all of it– all of these areas of Manchester – was divided into football pitches and rugby pitches…

I remember all of this sharply. And I remember, too, it striking me very clearly– even then as a puzzled, slightly thoughtful little girl – that this huge stretch of the Mersey flood plain had been entirely given over to boys.’ (1994, 185)

She uses this one beautifully written example of how ‘spaces are gendered through and through’ and then takes it as a jumping off point for exploring regional policy, employment, and caring as labour. It is hard to imagine more masculinist critical geographers asking questions about mundane gendered experiences of inequality and spatial practices (‘Who goes to the launderette? Who picks the children up from school’ (1994, 190)) when discussing patterns of employment, power and the making of space.

A second related – and much quoted – example comes from Massey’s critique of Harvey’s concept of space-time compression, in questioning the argument that flows of capital and the speeding up of life brought about by new technologies have left us placeless she argues:

‘For amid the Ridley Scott images of world cities, the writing about skyscraper fortresses, the Baudrillard visions of hyperspace … most people actually still live in places like Harlesden or West Brom. Much of life for many people, even in the heart of the First World, still consists of waiting in a bus-shelter with your shopping for a bus that never comes’ (1994, 163)

Here we are, back to the bus again. This time, the experience is linked to what Massey names ‘power geometry’. Who gets to have control over their movement? Who speeds around the world and who is waiting for the bus?

In her much-cited essay ‘A Global Sense of Place’ she imagines zooming out and looking at earth from space and being able to see the flows of technology and aeroplanes but also slower movements, a woman gathering water on foot. But she then zooms back in to Kilburn High Road and takes us for a walk down it in order for us to see how a sense of place, Kilburn, involves links to other places (‘In two shops I notice this week’s lottery winners: in one the name is Teresa Gleeson, in the other, Chouman Hassan’). I think of this essay when I read Zadie Smith’s description of Edgware Road in her novel NW or when I walk down my local high street.

Massey understood how capital shapes and distorts but also how not everything is reducible to capital. Understanding race and gender as axes of power that shape space is important. The ordinary culture of a place, how this links to other places and how these juxtapositions can result in new happenings is important. This is politically vital at a time when politicians present us with an enclosable little England.

What I take from Massey’s work is the need to keep one eye on global capital and another on the bus.