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#ChamberBreakers Season 1, Article 3: Homeless Support During COVID

The crisis within a crisis: homelessness, transphobia, Covid-19 and how business can help

The mental health issues provoked or intensified by Covid-19 have not gone away. The fallout among vulnerable groups from the first wave of lockdowns is still with us. Now, a wave of local containment regulation across Britain could presage a second full-scale national emergency1. This is a disaster-in-waiting for LGBTQIA+ people2 – with homelessness at its epicentre.

The Centre for Mental Health estimated in October 2020 that up to 10 million people in the UK "will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis"3. The charity’s NHS-supported modelling applies to the general population; arriving at that figure without even needing to go into the detail of how Covid has affected minority groups such as LGBTQIA+ or the homeless.

Solid statistics remain patchy for all vulnerable groups4, but the disruptive effects of the pandemic on the homeless, for example, are now well understood.

Charity Groundswell said in a July 2020 report5 that while housing support services may have been impaired, similarly important to homeless people were the mental health appointments and counselling sessions that had been reduced or cancelled – with many homeless unable to access the digital outreach services that might have replaced them.

The charity said that disruption to previously trusted relationships; barriers to accessing prescribed medication; a constant shuffling of referrals because of new temporary accommodation – as well as staying in accommodation that is fundamentally unsafe or insecure – have conspired to make more homeless people mentally unwell.

Then there is the very real threat of death.

A September 2020 collaborative paper from University College London, Lancaster University and Imperial College London says that of an estimated 46,565 homeless people in the UK, between 31 and 184 are likely to die from Covid-19 between June 1, 2020 and January 31, 20216 .

Speaking to Groundswell during the first lockdown, one NHS front-line staff member explained how mental health needs were increasing, while barriers to providing support were worsening.

They said: "I've heard a lot of people are thinking about suicide which is absolutely awful. I've never had so many people tell me that there's no hope and there's no point in going on. We've had to try and get a lot of help and mental health support for people as well and have had to step in quite a lot where we're trying to find people services that should be responsible in helping these people. But because their being moved around, we're not able to get them registered with a GP. It's getting very difficult, so getting them any help is near impossible at the moment. People are really suffering. They’re depressed. Some of them aren't eating. They’re just in a really bad way. It's like people have just been forgotten."

It is into this mess that some LGBTQIA+ people are in danger of falling as old lockdowns fester, and new ones begin bite.

The last resort

The UK’s first lockdown had a particularly disproportionate effect on the mental health of transgender people. Once again, while consistent, post-Covid research is hard to come by, there is mounting evidence that as physical and psychological NHS treatments were cancelled or delayed due to Covid, some trans people have been unable to cope, with an increase in self harm7  and suicide8 .

This exists on top of already worrying longer-term trends. A 2018 Stonewall-YouGov survey found that "more than a quarter of trans people (28 per cent) in a relationship in the last year have faced domestic abuse from a partner".

The Verizon Business and Yahoo Finance UK #ChamberBreakers podcast series has been talking to workers on the frontline of mental health in the UK to shed light on how different vulnerable groups are being affected by the pandemic. In his #ChamberBreakers interview, Kirrin Medcalf, Head of Trans Inclusion at Stonewall and Trans Youth Worker at Gender Intelligence, says that for trans people, lockdown’s are a timebomb.

"We know that LGBT people, especially trans people, have poor mental health outcomes," he says. "Some people will try to say, ‘well, this proves that trans people are mentally unwell’. What it actually proves is that being trans isn’t the cause of poor mental health. It is the way transphobic people react to them."

"That is being exacerbated by being at home all time – being in unsafe environments with family members who maybe are not accepting of their identity and isolated from your chosen family and friends.

"The lockdown situation makes me think of a time where this was my life as a teenager. I didn't go out. I didn't have friends. I was constantly at home and isolated. And that was due to the transphobia and bullying I experienced as a young person."

For some trans people, the only escape will be to the streets – a traumatic experience with or without Covid.

"It's a difficult one to talk about," says #ChamberBreakers guest and founder of homeless charity Foot Works, Richard Cooper in his interview. "Before we even went into Coronavirus, if you came from the LGBTQ community, you weren't shouting about it because you were fearful of what might happen to you on the streets.

"Unless that voice is heard and we continue to support them in the way that we have, they are just going to become a bigger minority group out there. I just hope that those communities out there continue to feel brave enough to shout about their cause. I absolutely know that those charities that were there supporting them will continue to support whatever."

What can business do to help?

It is this dedication from both homeless and LGTB+ charities that will save and mend lives. "Support the charities working in these areas," Cooper continues. "I appreciate that many organizations are looking at the way that they do business. They're looking at their budgets and they're looking at the finances. But from a CSR point of view all I would ask is: please do not shut the doors on the organizations - particularly in the homeless sector - that need your support.

"As Corona viruses kicked in, we saw an awful lot of government support because it's recognizing that I don't necessarily need to live on the streets to be homeless. I could be living in somebody’s living room and they might let me use that for two months. We've got examples of guys and girls living in cars.

"There is an old statistic that three million people in the UK were four or five weeks away from not having a rent cheque or a housing cheque. It's less than a week now.

"If you want to continue your mission as a socially responsible organization or business that provides provisions for the welfare of your team members, then there are the ways to help directly."

Acting locally

Medcalf agrees. He believes that support for grassroots organizations is the best thing a business can do. "Support organizations that are dealing with these things directly, such as the LGBTQI Outside Project, such as Galop, who have a special domestic violence, sexual violence and hate crime service. Start funding these things; give them money, give resources – a mobile phone is much more helpful than any sort of training. The expertise is there. It's just about getting it out to people.

"Also, when you do a campaign or give information about domestic violence in your organization, make sure that it includes a diversity of things. Not all perpetrators are men. Not all victims are women. It makes it really hard for people to be able to identify when domestic violence or sexual violence or hate crime is happening to them." 

That said, Medcalf believes businesses can help trans people avoid the prospect of homelessness in the first place.

"Just start employing them," he says. "The way to be able to get out of violence is to be able to have your own money so that you can leave if you want to."

Workplace security

But companies need to make sure that they are ready for trans people in the first place, Medcalf continues. "There's no point getting loads of trans people in and saying, ‘oh gosh, we don't know what to do with these people’. You might harm them because you're not set up for it.

"If you have a good experience with one company, you'll see more people coming through. Once you start showing that you're a safe environment, you'll be surprised how many trans people might already work for you." 

Cooper also has a sense of optimism. He sees the pandemic as an opportunity for progressive businesses to shine during such difficult times. 

"It's easy to revert back to the norm," he says. "But I would encourage organizations to keep doing what they're doing now – being that caring organization that companies have suddenly become as a result of Coronavirus."

For information about helping the homeless, see Housing First UK and Homeless Link. For insight and resources surrounding inclusivity programmes at work, see Stonewall and Gender Intelligence. For LGBTQIA+ people experiencing domestic violence and bullying, see Galop, Stonewall and The LGBTIQ Outside Project blog series for insight into supporting mental health outreach programmes. 

1 https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-54498191

2 https://finance.yahoo.com/news/chamber-breakers-trans-rights-at-work-and-during-covid-19-is-a-matter-of-life-and-death-074526394.html

3 https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/publications/covid-19-and-nations-mental-health-october-2020

4 CMH Forecast Modelling Toolkit: Supplementary information https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-09/Forecast%20Model%20Assumptions%20Public%20Version%20August%202020%20v10.pptx

5 Monitoring the Impact of Covid-19 Fortnightly Homelessness Briefing 7: Focus on Mental Health: https://groundswell.org.uk/monitoring-covid-19/

6 COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness in England: a modelling study: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(20)30396-9/fulltext

7 https://www.france24.com/en/20200930-uk-transgender-patients-turn-to-crowdfunding-due-to-huge-delays

8 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/14/trans-woman-alexandra-greenway-waiting-for-therapy-when-she-died-mother-tells-inquest