Christmas is almost here, and many of us are looking forward to spending time with our loved ones. But there are some people who don't have that to look forward to. That is because they are homeless.
Being homeless is one of the worst things can happen to someone. I know because I have been there. In 2004, at the age of 20, my circumstances changed dramatically, and I was made homeless one week before Christmas. I was devastated at the time, and it was a dark period in my life. I'm not alone, though.
Research shows that there are 78,000 to 80,000 homeless young people in the UK. Of those, it is estimated that about 7 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (around 5,600 people). It is my opinion that there are more homeless LGBT youth, as the 7-percent figure only represents those who disclose their sexuality or gender identity.
There are many reasons that young LGBT people become homeless. Although there has been much progress in terms of government legislation and rights for LGBT people in the UK, discrimination and prejudice are still prevalent in some pockets of society. Coming out and not being accepted is still a problem, and many young LGBT people find themselves being forced to move out due to something that is a natural part of their being. As for me, I wasn't made homeless because of my sexuality, and that is the case for others, too; being made homeless isn't always related to being LGBT, but at the same time it is a reality that many are homeless as a direct result of their sexuality or gender identity.
Becoming homeless is just the tip of the iceberg for some people. Being in that situation can lead to other issues and awful situations stemming from it. It becomes easier to fall into alcohol and drug abuse. Some say that this helps numb the pain and despair of being homeless, but ultimately it magnifies the problem. Depression is another issue that homeless people face. Feeling that you have nothing and nobody is the worst feeling, and nobody should have to go through that.
When I became homeless, my world was already falling apart, and it continued to do so for some time, until I hit rock bottom. But before I hit rock bottom, I did manage to get some help. In the town where I live, there was something called the Young Housing Project. They provided housing and support for people aged 16 to 25 who were homeless. They seemed like a possible alternative to me after I got nowhere with my local council housing department. I had a meeting with a lady from the Young Housing Project called Happiness, who talked me through their process of supporting young people. At the end of the meeting, I was informed that I would be contacted shortly with a potential opportunity to move into a shared house with other young people.
In the meantime I managed to find myself some accommodations in a house where African people live (I am not African). I was happy to have somewhere to live, albeit temporarily. My experience in the house was uncomfortable, though, and I longed to move out. I had a partner at the time and let him stay over occasionally, so my housemates must have known I am gay. One day one of my housemates knocked on my bedroom door to ask me something. I was unwell at the time and was sniffling. My housemate looked at me, said, "It's probably HIV," and walked off. We didn't speak again. That comment really upset me at the time, and I viewed it as homophobia.
Luckily I was only in the house for one month. The Young Housing Project was quick to get back to me and invited me to a meeting with them. At the meeting they informed me that if I was to move into one of their shared houses, I would be at risk of harm should my sexuality ever be revealed. From that I thought I wasn't going to be housed. However, to my surprise, I was then told that I would be able to move directly to a property where I would be the sole tenant. I viewed the property the next day and instantly moved in. Nearly eight years later, I am still here.
Aside from the housing I was provided with, I also received free counselling from the Young Housing Project to help me deal with the multiple issues I had in my life at the time. It was a very rocky road, and I was still yet to hit rock bottom, but the support I received from the Young Housing Project saved my life.
Not everyone is so lucky, though. Some people remain homeless for years, and others don't live to see the day when they get out of the depths of despair. Many fall into alcohol and drug addiction, and some turn to offering sex for money in order to survive. It's a very dark place, and that is why I believe more needs to be done to help those who are homeless. Sadly, the Young Housing Project closed down, and there are many other organizations and charities that are struggling with the demand from homeless people. So what can we do to help? We can donate to homeless charities, we can send clothes and food to homeless shelters so that they can continue their vital work helping vulnerable people, and we can open up our homes to provide a bed for the night for a homeless person.
It's such an awful situation to be in, and it could happen to any one of us, regardless of sexuality. So this Christmas, be thankful for what you have, and give a thought for those who are not so fortunate. And please do help if you are able to. Someone's life may depend on it.
Follow Daniel Browne on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MrDanielBrowne