Trans model who faced losing home of 30 years shares how she found help – and her ‘fighting spirit’

Winn Austin

When her landlord tried to force her out of her home of almost three decades, model Winn Austin gained a new understanding of the vicious circle people experiencing homelessness can face. 

Winn resolved her housing issue with the help of services dedicated to helping LGBT+ people experiencing housing issues – much like HSBC UK’s No Fixed Address Service. She told PinkNews how asking for help led to her regaining her “fighting spirit”.

Winn Austin didn’t think in her “wildest dreams” that she’d ever find herself at risk of homelessness. “It didn’t cross my mind, not even for a split second,” she admits. The model, designer and one-time host of legendary 90s LGBT+ club night Kinky Gerlinky is discussing a recent dispute with her landlord, during which she faced the potential loss of her home of nearly three decades.

Living in a central London location that is “prime for Airbnb”, Winn’s problems with her landlord followed those of several neighbours, as local property owners saw the redevelopment of the area as “an opportunity to make much more money without consideration for tenants.” For Winn, who had lived peacefully in her home for almost 30 years, this was the start of an arduous battle with her landlord over supposed rent arrears, a situation which left her facing eviction. 

“He kept badgering me to start looking for a place. He was trying to insinuate that I was so many thousands of pounds in arrears which wasn’t necessarily true. There were times when I was giving him money off the books, and because I was trusting I didn’t record it,” Winn explains. “I thought, wait a minute, I’ve been in this place for so many years, I don’t want to just take myself away. So I started looking for advice.”

Winn went to the local authorities, hoping that they would be able to help with her situation, but found that the services available had little understanding of Winn’s particular concerns as a Black trans woman facing the prospect of relocating to a completely new area. 

“In this neighbourhood, my neighbours watched my back. These are people I have known for years, see every single day of my life, so we have a kind of relationship,” Winn says. “That community is imperative. It gives you the security to be able to do you and be you. The neighbourhoods they were suggesting to me, I didn’t think I could live in safely.”

Winn found that the services available to her were largely unable or unwilling to help, at times coming up against providers who “just switched” when she identified herself as a member of the LGBT+ community. Her mental and physical health began to suffer as she continued to face disorganisation, indifference and ineffectualness from those she turned to for assistance on the brink of possible homelessness. 

“I’m a strong minded person, but it starts wearing you down. Every time I went to an appointment with them, I felt like my whole insides were upturned because I knew what I was going to be facing,” Winn shares. “The stress was enormous. I’m not someone who stresses a lot or worries a lot, but I was not sleeping. I have some health issues which flare up when I’m not sleeping and eating well. And that takes me to a very dark place, you could say it’s a form of depression.”

It was only when a close friend put a callout on social media on Winn’s behalf that she finally found the help that she needed. A member of the LGBT+ homelessness charity Stonewall Housing reached out and arranged a meeting, ultimately providing Winn with legal advice, accompanying her when she took her landlord to court, and helping her regain her “fighting spirit”.

Winn was able to resolve her housing issues, but many aren’t as lucky. They can end up homeless – sofa surfing or sleeping rough – which can fast become a vicious circle. “You can’t really do anything without an address,” Winn says. “You can’t get a job, you can’t go to the doctors, the basic stuff.”

Without a fixed address, it can be difficult to open a bank account, which in turn can prevent people from accessing pay or benefits. It’s why HSBC UK has partnered with Stonewall Housing, Shelter and other charities on its No Fixed Address Service, where the charity provides people who are homeless with an address so that HSBC UK can help them open a bank account. Charity caseworkers are there to help every step of the way, as they were for Winn when she was experiencing her own issues.

“It gives you strength when you understand that somebody is in your corner, that they’re ready to get up and fight, and show you that they’re there for you,” she says. “It was an enormous help to me.”

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.