The vicious circle of being young, LGBT+ and homeless: ‘You’re constantly in survival mode’

Chloe, sat in front of a brick wall

Aged 17, Chloë Florence was in denial about the fact that she was homeless.

Thankfully now settled in long-term housing, Chloë’s story reflects the ways in which young LGBT+ people experiencing homelessness face double discrimination – but also how there are services out there, such as HSBC UK’s No Fixed Address Service, trying to make a difference.

At first, “it was safer to just try and stay busy”, Chloë tells PinkNews.

“In the evening I would try and find something to do, maybe a house party, maybe I was dating someone and staying at theirs for a bit. I knew people that were in student accommodation as well so at one point I remember staying with them.

“I’d try to make connections with people so that I had something to do during the night, and then even if I didn’t get any sleep I’d be able to sleep in a station or on public transport during the day.”

Chloë started sleeping rough at the age of 17 after spending her childhood in and out of the care system. Being homeless as a young person came with a huge set of challenges.

“A lot of the time it was about trying to stay invisible,” she says. “It’s trying not to look vulnerable so that people don’t see that you need somewhere to sleep and then take advantage of that. Things like making sure that you find somewhere to clean, that you can have access to makeup so that you don’t look rough, figuring out ways of getting on to transport, stuff like that.”

According to the charity akt, 24 per cent of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBT+. Like that of many others, Chloë’s experience was compounded by misogyny and homophobia. “There’s a lot of people sexualising you,” she explains, “like men saying they’ll give you somewhere to stay if you kiss and things like that. Even with friends I would put up with a lot more comments and rubbish because of needing that friendship.”

As her situation progressed and Chloë admitted to herself that she was homeless, she found that one of the biggest hardships was navigating discriminatory and bureaucratic support systems. “It’s a cycle of going from one place to the next and there not ever being like an end goal. And in terms of discrimination, it happens institutionally. When I was in hostel accommodation, there were staff that had a lot of prejudice, but when you go to the council or whatever they don’t see being queer as a vulnerability.”

One of the biggest challenges faced by many people experiencing homelessness is that without a fixed address, it can be difficult to access many services, including a bank account – in turn making it difficult to get benefits or pay. HSBC UK hopes to break this vicious circle with its No Fixed Address Service, working with partners such as LGBT+ homelessness charity Stonewall Housing and other charities including Shelter to provide people with an address so that HSBC UK can provide them with a bank account.

It was the involvement of Stonewall Housing that eventually led to Chloë finally securing long-term accommodation after the LGBT+ charity nominated her for a council flat last year. “When they said they were gonna support me I didn’t believe it, because I’ve been lied to by so many people and I thought that it was just never going to end,” Chloë admits. “But they believed me, they helped me, and they give me the support to keep long- term housing as well, because if you’ve never had it you don’t necessarily know how to deal with it.”

Ultimately, the challenges of everyday life and the struggles Chloë faced while trying to find help took a huge toll on her physical and mental health.

“To get into that situation you go through a lot of trauma. It takes a lot to actually say that you need help. It’s a big thing, and then to be rejected or not taken seriously is really damaging,” she says.

“And physical and mental health are very interlinked. I’ve had a lot of little physical things that have been really hard to deal with. I didn’t go to the dentists for a long time, I had kidney infections that got left untreated. You’re constantly in survival mode and can’t actually process any of your emotions, or focus on any other aspects of your life, because you’re just thinking, where am I going to go later?”

Since moving into her flat, Chloë has been able to enjoy things that many take for granted, like choosing furnishings with her partner. 

“Talking about paints and stuff like normal people,” she says. “I’d never had a double bed or anything like that so it was weird having these things. It took a long time for me to believe that it was actually mine and no one was going to tell me to leave.” 

As a performance poet, writer and actress Chloë draws on her experiences of homelessness and LGBT+ youth in her work. First speaking publicly about this at a slam poetry competition, she credits her new home with allowing her to focus on her creative talents. “I’m writing a TV series and making a short film. That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do but I guess having my own place has allowed me to have the time to do it. I’ve been able to create a routine and focus on the work that I want to do creatively in a much more positive way. It’s a privilege now to be in a position where I could talk about my experiences reflectively.”

If you or somebody that you know is experiencing housing or homelessness issues and is struggling to open a bank account, HSBC UK’s No Fixed Address Service could help. More information on the service can be found here.