DIVA chats to Claire Linacre, Donor Engagement Manager at akt, all about their work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE BY SARA CARPENTIERI
One of the most renowned LGBTQI charities in the UK, akt have been supporting LGBTQI youth aged 16-25 who are facing or experiencing homelessness since 1989.
akt was first set up in Manchester by ally Cath Hall, a foster carer who found that many gay, lesbian and bisexual young people were not receiving the care and support they need and deserve.
Even after 30 years, the issues affecting LGBTQI youth homelessness are still relevant today and support has become even more crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic this year.
We caught up with Claire Linacre, akt’s Donor Engagement Manager, to find out how we can help them to further their support of LGBTQI homelessness.
How has COVID-19 affected the work that you do?
As restrictions remain across the UK, akt has continued to see a high volume of young people needing urgent support, either because they’re homeless or their living situation at home is becoming progressively volatile. Options are increasingly limited, and locking down in a safe home just isn’t possible for everyone. We’ve felt the impact of COVID-19 vibrate across all our service centres; we’ve seen a 44% increase nationally and 107% increase in London alone from young people who need our help compared to the same time period in 2019.
How have you had to adapt to the current circumstances?
Right at the start of lockdown we galvanised online support with our emergency appeal #aktogether, and launched into digitising our services.
We had to shake every part of what makes akt into action. We shifted from conducting face-to-face work with young people, holding supporter events in our office spaces, and championing offline fundraisers into channelling it all into dynamic, effective online models. For our young people, we currently offer national virtual support via Live Chat, email and phone, and we’ve dedicated more resources to our online support hub and e-mentoring service.
Our work with donors, supporters and volunteers is now exclusively virtual, and we’ve witnessed new, dizzying heights of kindness and ingenuity – from fundraisers running marathons in kitchens and people donating their commute equivalents, to full-blown virtual concerts.
What help can you provide for individuals within the LGBTQI community?
We proudly support LGBTQI young people aged 16-25 who are facing homelessness, familial rejection or living in a hostile environment. We run our own emergency accommodation and host programme, and provide our young people with truly tailored housing support and help with independent living. We know that coming out, or being outed as LGBTQI, can still lead to young people being made homeless – even in 2020. 24% of homeless young people are LGBTQI which is significantly disproportionate.
Once homeless, LGBTQI young people are more likely to face violence and discrimination than young people who aren’t LGBTQI. They’re also more likely to develop substance misuse issues and experience sexual exploitation. This can all take a huge toll on someone’s physical and mental health. From experience, we know that with our support and the right help, these young people can thrive.
What are you doing to move forward in these difficult times?
We know that realistically we could be seeing further spikes of housing-insecure LGBTQI young people throughout the colder months, beyond anything we’ve known before. To help prepare we’ve recruited additional caseworkers, including our first ever Digital Caseworker who works nationally, and we’ll be launching a winter appeal to once again galvanise and mobilise those who already support us, and the ones we haven’t yet reached.
In my personal life, I proposed to my girlfriend last month – the magic of now knowing I get to marry her one day (whenever that may be!), feels like a rope out of quicksand. She’s been my light through this.
How can people support akt?
Be our cheerleader! Share what we do with your mates and co-workers. Fundraise for us and unapologetically champion our work. Email email@example.com with questions or comments and e-meet us. Donate what you can on our website www.akt.org.uk/donate and support our winter appeal.
However you do it, you’ll instantly be part of our team – a team fiercely pulling together to help vulnerable LGBTQI young people through a year like none other. And for that, we think you’re an utter sensation.
Head to the akt website for more information on how they can help you.