Organization offers safe shelters where individuals can be themselves without fear
Homelessness affects LGBTIQ+ people at a higher rate than the general population, particularly youth. Due to various social and cultural factors, these young people may be turned out by their families, stripped of their sense of normalcy and any remaining safety net and forced into homelessness – all because they came out as an LGBTIQ+ individual.
Even those with accepting families can face discrimination later in life that leads to their homelessness. For example, Stonewall reports that as many as 1 in 4 transgender people are discriminated against while trying to rent or buy accommodation on the basis of their gender identity.
This is heartbreaking on its own. But it gets worse when you consider LGBTIQ+ folks face a harder life once they’ve become homeless. Shelter employees and other homeless people are not immune to bigotry. They can threaten or harm LGBTIQ+ people, forcing them onto the streets, where the public can be even less kind.
Still, many prefer to take their chances sleeping rough rather than expose themselves to the potential dangers of mixed accommodation shelter life.
Despite the unique dangers LGBTIQ+ homeless people face, there’s a shortage of unique accommodation to protect them from those dangers. Shelters made by LGBTIQ+ folks, for LGBTIQ+ folks were more dream than reality.
At least, they were until Carla Ecola came onto the scene.
The Urgent Need for Safe Shelters
Seeing the dangers that homeless LGBTIQ+ faced both in homeless shelters and on the streets, Ecola decided to act.
It pained her to see LGBTIQ+ bullied or berated for their identities, having to act like something they weren’t to fit in and survive.
So, in 2017 she founded The Outside Project, using crowdfunding to buy a 12-bed tour bus and turn it into Britain’s very first homeless shelter specifically for those identifying as LGBTIQ+. Since then, the project has expanded thanks to public support and funding from the London mayor’s office. Now, The Outside Project has its first permanent location in a Clerkenwell building. Once a fire station, the building is now a shelter and community centre serving up to 10 LGBTIQ+ homeless people at a time.
Ecola said people who come to her shelter are often referred there from mainstream accommodation where they have suffered violence, verbal abuse, hate crimes, and sexual abuse due to their LGBTIQ+ status.
The Outside Project Offers Rare Relief
Once they arrive at The Outside Project shelter, guests can finally relax. It’s a feeling that’s very rare in the life of an LGBTIQ+ homeless person. Being surrounded by allies and others who understand their unique struggles means they no longer must act, try to fit in, or pretend to be something they’re not in order to remain safe or ensure their survival.
Being surrounded by other LGBTIQ+ homeless people, they can finally feel safe. They can also build a community of people who deeply understand one another when so many in the world cannot.
In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Ecola had this to say about guests coming to The Outside Project’s shelter for the first time:
“When they come here, the relief from being around other LGBTIQ+ people – having been rejected by their families or their neighbours, and then from other homelessness services that are supposed to have caught them – is huge’.
Special Services on Offer
The safety of a space free from bigotry and violence is a huge part of The Outside Project’s draw. But it’s not the only thing the shelter offers. They also have special services in place that other homeless shelters rarely offer to best serve their LGBTIQ+ guests.
Services include a sexual health clinic, domestic violence services, and a 24/7 community space with a free shop and cafe. These additions go above and beyond the offerings available at typical homeless shelters. They cater to guests’ unique needs by giving them a safe place to retreat to both night and day. The facility fosters community with others who have been through the same challenges. It also offers healthcare onsite well-equipped to offer support homeless LGBTIQ+ people desperately need, but mainstream accommodation simply doesn’t offer.
The Goals and Future of The Outside Project
According to their website, The Outside Project has several stated goals, including the following:
- Create space to empower & bring together our whole community
- Provide a free, safe, inclusive & caring space for all LGBTIQ+ guests
- Practically, professionally & emotionally support our guests
- Develop positive relationships with services & strengthen support to the LGBTIQ+ community
- Share our knowledge to educate others on the unique & complex needs of the LGBTIQ+ community
- Advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights & needs within services
- Promote a clean, safe & sober lifestyle within the LGBTIQ+ community
- Grow into a full time, year-round service with permanent premises
After about two years in existence, they’ve managed to accomplish all these goals and more. I, for one, can’t wait to see them expand their reach even further, opening up more safe spaces for homeless members of the LGBTIQ+ community and educating the public about the unique issues facing their guests.
If you’d like to support the work of The Outside Project, you can find them hosting many different fundraisers and events throughout the year at places like LUSH Oxford Street, Grassmovement Festival, Pride events, and other places.