Snowflakes and Purple Doors – Young, Homeless and LGBT

Simon Blish

As the temperatures drop dramatically and we’re all gearing up for the festive season, I can’t help but think about those who are not fortunate enough to have somewhere to sleep for the night. As I bury myself into my winter coat, the steps between my flat and the tube station tend to speed up in an attempt to minimise the time spent in the frosty winter breeze.

Every year when I think about how hard it must be not to have a home during the winter months it takes me a few moments to realise, but eventually it emerges as an epiphany – I am such a ridiculous hypocrite.

I am not the first to critique our culture of ‘instant charity’ – where a single event or situation sparks a desire for people to think about those less fortunate than themselves. In my opinion this model isn’t a sustainable solution, it just eases a symptom rather than eliminating the disease.

Of course homelessness is increasingly difficult during the winter months, but it’s certainly not limited to when temperatures approach freezing. This is a seriously problem and fixing it takes more than a brief intervention caused by a moment of pity.

I’m in no way suggesting that we ignore people stuck out in the cold, what I mean is that efforts need to be made in order to prevent that from happening in the first place. So how can a sudden surge of goodwill be transformed into a lasting and continuous solution?

With this in mind I’d like to focus the attention on some efforts made this year in preventing homelessness amongst young LGBT people across various locations in England.

In July this year the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) opened the metaphorical and literal door that is the Purple Door Project. With bases in London and Greater Manchester this initiative is aimed at creating more than just a warm bed for young homeless LGBT people to spend the night in.

The London programme involves a shared house where a programme lasting a few weeks is tailored to the specifics required by the individual’s needs. The house in Manchester is designed for a longer course ranging six to twelve months. Central to the trust is the idea that gender and sexuality is prominent in the way they work, as the individuals requiring their services often encounter hostility and intolerance in other similar charity environments.

The support given covers aspects such as mentoring and advocacy as well as pragmatic independent living skills. Furthermore, I believe it promotes confidence and self-worth amongst young LGBT people who have had to escape their family environment, mostly because of their sexuality. It’s not easy being a teenager, and it’s certainly not easy being driven to the streets by your own family’s inability to understand who you are.

A general consensus is that as a society we are getting increasingly tolerant and accepting (well, this is definitely debatable, but stay with me!). So it’s disappointing to hear that social interventions such as the Purple Door Project are not only needed but the demands for them are actually increasing. As presented in an article by Claudia Cahalane in the Guardian, the need for AKT’s services has had a staggering increase. So what does this say about our nation and our LGBT politics in general?

Focus on equal marriage and other LGBT rights policies suggests we are moving towards a better place – but at the same time the amount of teenagers being shunned away from their homes is becoming a more common occurrence. Surely somewhere, somehow, we as a society are failing? I know we are definitely having debates and political discussions, but is our rhetoric inherently flawed? It appears as though something is missing, but the question is what?

The surge of ‘instant charity’ driven by the cold weather may not be the solution to the problem, but it has potential to enable those committed to helping those in need to further their cause. All us of don’t have the ability to be carers, but what we can do is debate, talk, raise awareness, as well as financially and politically support those who are working for sustainable solutions.

So if the Christmas spirit and frosty nights invoke an urge for charitable interference, please see the Albert Kennedy Trust website for details on how you can help.

About Simon Blish

Writing, drawing, editing - Simon loves it all.