When I was 17, my father kicked me out of the family house. He called me on the phone and said I was a faggot and that I should change my name. The usual. That I should forget I had a family. He gave me half a day. It was night time and I should pack up and leave immediately so that I’d be gone by next morning. If I didn’t do so, he’d beat the hell out of me and throw all my stuff to the trash can. I called up a friend and moved all my stuff to her place. My friend lived with her family, that is her parents and three siblings so you can imagine what it was like. We were eight of nine people in that house. Things weren’t easy. I had quite a hard time.
I just felt like I was growing old too fast…
I once thought that one’s family is sacred but then I realised it wasn’t so. One’s family can dig their child’s grave and push it in.
The link between homelessness and LGBTQI+ identities in Greece hasn’t been studied sufficiently, since the affected population is by and large invisible, even within the LGBTQI+ community, a fact that complies with the general invisibility of homeless people – it is indicative that despite the soaring number of homeless people in the past few years, the issue takes up very little space in the public discourse. In the LGBTQI+ homeless people’s case, the one type of invisibility is added on top of the other and their sum faces the constraints of a complete failure of every organisation and protective institution.
In Greece it’s a rather common perception that the (nuclear and extended) family jumps in to cover the State’s permanent shortcomings: that pensions will chip in for salaries that don’t correspond to the actual costs of living, that childhood bedrooms will keep “hosting” adult children. That where there are no primary care and prevention organisations, the family will make sure that such needs will be met.Socially and culturally we’re taught to expect that our family will always be there. Yet in the case of LGBTQI+ people, the reality is rather different: Their families or their family homes aren’t always an obvious solution or a safe space. It’s often quite the opposite: They can be spaces of marginalisation and contempt, where people do not fit, or at least not as a whole. There’s a whole homo/bi/transphobic spectrum that leads LGBTQI+ people into homelessness: From “as long as you’re living under my roof, you’ll do and be as I say”, all the way to “get out!”. In any case, staying at home isn’t a viable option, as it’s accompanied by emotional or even physical abuse.
Given the complete lack of inclusive and specialised support organisations, homelessness is inevitable. This scenario is unfortunately more common than what we can imagine or what we’d like to believe and is a strong hindrance for every young LGBTQI+ person who’s considering coming out to their families. And since this is an existing reality, there are young LGBTQI+ homeless people from every social and economic background. And of course homelessness doesn’t just mean a lack of financial assets, but also the exclusion from all emotional and psychological support networks and possible safe spaces. And if LGBTQI+ people can feel that they’re in a safe space in LGBTQI+ bars and organisations, access to all of those is limited for homeless LGBTQI+ people.
Exclusions usually come in the form of an avalanche – they’re never one-dimensional. The lack of housing is closely linked to limited studies and work perspectives. This is even more true of trans people, who belong to the most marginalised group and the one who is more likely to face difficulty finding decent housing. There are numerous obstacles that stand in their way: The process for changing one’s legal documents (Legal Gender Identity Change) can only be done in court and therefore bears legal fees that are not viable for unemployed individuals. Without being able to change their legal documents, it becomes almost impossible for them to find work or suitable housing.
The above examples all speak to the fact that homelessness creates a vicious circle of continuous exclusions that are very hard to break. The lack of support frameworks and funds means that often dealing with all those adversities will come down to substance and alcohol (ab)use, survival sex and insecure sexual practices compared to heterosexual and cis people of the same age. The extreme marginalisation experienced by young LGBTQI+ people who lack decent housing, pushes them outside the boundaries of the formal economy with all the insecurity and consequences in their physical and mental health that this entails.
The lack of structural protective policies is blatant in this case: A safe house for homeless LGBTQI+ people has been a permanent demand of the LGBTQI+ community that hasn’t been satisfied despite the constant efforts by the community. This safe house wouldn’t be a charity donation to LGBTQI+ people, but a project based on the community’s principles that would make good use of its lived experience combined with scientific knowledge, in order to achieve overall essential empowerment and inclusion. This would mean, of course, that the State would recognise the particular challenges that LGBTQI+ people have to face, converse with the LGBTQI+ community on equal terms and confront the systemic homo/bi/transphobia that exists in health and mental health organisations and institutions as well as in the public sector as a whole, which reflects the general society’s homo/bi/transphobia.
In addition to the traditional homelessness types, now there’s also the recently emerged housing crisis in the form of ever-increasing renting costs for an ever-decreasing number of properties that are not exclusively available for short-term leasing. There have been promises of interest-free housing loans and rent subsidies that on one hand don’t specify if they’d be valid for couples who live in civil partnership (since same-sex couples still don’t have the right to mary in Greece) and also they’re like a pat on the back of heteronormativity that only concerns part of the LGBTQI+ community (often the most privileged part of said community). On one hand, several LGBTQI+ persons are potentially more liberated than forming a hetero or a homonormative relationship and on the other hand, homophobia can hinder the forming of such relationships even for those who might actually want them.
If the image looks bleak, it’s because it actually is. This doesn’t mean that at least some LGBTQI+ homeless people (as well as the LGBTQI+ community historically) don’t develop survival skills, don’t make use of the available resources or don’t find ways to escape homelessness. There’s not much point in us putting forward the exceptions of those individuals who made it through insurmountable adversities. Those individuals do exist and it’s their stories that usually become widely known. The point would be to achieve a comprehensive policy change that would ensure the prosperity, rather than the mere survival, of everybody and especially of those who are currently slipping through the cracks of an inexistant system and whose lives and deaths never make the spotlight. And more importantly, we ought to focus on policy creation that aims to empower communities as a whole, rather than seek charity aid for a few “lucky” exceptions.