Survey research conducted in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, has suggested that, among the homeless youth population, 20-40% identify as LGBTQ or LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit) (Abramovich and Shelton 2017; Albert Kennedy Trust 2015; Gaetz et al. 2016; Price et al. 2019). This is similar to reported rates of LGBTQ homelessness in Australia, with increases in trans, gender diverse, and nonbinary clients observed by service provider staff in recent years (McNair et al. 2017; Oakley and Bletsas 2013); however, prevalence remains difficult to estimate, partly due to the lack of options for appropriately recording sexual orientation, gender diversity, and intersex variations in mainstream services and population research.
Frameworks for understanding homelessness have been largely informed by white, Western, heteronormative worldviews that are not necessarily inclusive of the diverse and complex experiences of highly marginalised groups, leading to major gaps in knowledge and service provision. In this guide, ‘homelessness’ is understood as a complex process shaped by intersecting social and cultural factors, with a history in Australia linked to white settler colonisation and the dispossession of lands from the Traditional Custodians; this history contributes to the massive over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s homeless population (Coleman and Fopp 2014). Homelessness is also linked to an inadequate supply of safe and affordable housing, stability and length of tenure, and includes overcrowding. For the purpose of this guide and future policy directions, it is understood as an experience (irreducible to rooflessness or personal choice) of having ‘unsuitable accommodation’ – meaning a dwelling where security of tenure, or control of access to space for social relations, are compromised; or where living arrangements are in other ways inadequate (ABS 2012).
In the State of Homelessness in Australia’s Cities survey, which was focused on rough sleeping, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for approximately 20%, and a much higher proportion had been previously imprisoned compared with people who did not identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Flateau et al. 2018). Specific data on the prevalence of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who identify as LGBTIQ+, and Brotherboys and Sistergirls, is still missing. In the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSIPEP) report (Dudgeon et al. 2016), LGBTIQ+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were identified as particularly vulnerable, and a high-risk group for suicide. Some of the specific challenges raised in the ATSIPEP report included the compounding effects of racism (including from the wider LGBTIQ+ community), homophobia and transphobia from non-Indigenous people; as well as the trauma of rejection from some family members and communities (Dudgeon et al. 2016).
The State of Homelessness in Australia’s Cities report also found that the percentage of survey respondents who had a permanent disability limiting mobility was twice as high among those who identified as female (40.6%) compared to male, and higher among Indigenous (36.7%) than non-Indigenous Australians (Flateau et al. 2018). People with disabilities are at increased risk of homelessness, and staying in abusive relationships, when shelters and other services are not accessible. However, there is still a major gap in knowledge of homelessness rates and experiences among people with a disability, and different types of cognitive and physical disabilities, who are LGBTIQ+.
There are also major gaps in understanding of homelessness experiences for LGBTIQ+ people from migrant communities and religious minority groups. There can be additional feelings of fear, shame, or guilt concerning lost connections (with family or community) because of their gender and/or sexual orientation. LGBTIQ+ people from religious minority groups may be more reluctant to access mainstream faith-based services (for example, Anglo Christian), and refugees may be less inclined to engage with services after significant trauma and the long process of applying for asylum. For international students, identifying as LGBTIQ+ could carry the risk of a visa being cancelled, and/or loss of financial support from families and sponsors, potentially impacting on their studies as well as their housing situation. Like asylum seekers, they are unable to access support such as Medicare and Centrelink. In short, the reasons why LGBTIQ+ people from many different multicultural and multifaith groups become homeless, unable to access services, or remain in high-risk home environments, are still poorly understood.
People with an intersex variation (or preferred medical terminology for their individual variation), and with particular intersex variations, who do and do not identify as LGBTIQ+ have also been especially overlooked in homelessness policy, research, data, and service provision. In a recent Australian survey, which focused on people with an intersex variation, 6% of respondents reported being homeless or living precariously (Jones et al. 2016). Equally important to note is that while people with an intersex variation may identify as L, G, B, T, I, and/or Q, not everyone does, or considers themselves to be part of the LGBTIQ+ community, and an equally wide range of identities exist among intersex people as with those who are not .
Other groups within the LGBTIQ+ community about which there is limited data and understanding when it comes to homelessness pathways and experiences, include people who are living in rural/regional/remote areas, exiting prison or previously incarcerated, elderly, older women, neurodiverse, sex workers, living with HIV, and victims of violence (family, intimate partner, sexual, emotional, and economic)