Stonewall Housing have worked harder than ever to support LGBTQI individuals during the Covid-19 pandemic
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS
Stonewall Housing have been providing specialist LGBTQI support for vulnerable young people who have been made homeless primarily because of their gender identity or sexuality since 1986. It still remains the only housing association in London wholly dedicated to serving the LGBTQI community.
By providing safe spaces for individuals, they can then work on a range of personalised living skills to move them towards independence. They provide support with anything, from learning to cook and clean to understanding and accepting sexuality.
Lots of their service users are care leavers as young as 16 who haven’t experienced rites of passage yet. Stonewall Housing sees them through all the typical things you expect as a young adult – coming out, first relationships, first break ups, getting in trouble with the police, getting into college or university, getting their first job.
We spoke to Shaval Heaven, a LGBTQI specialist Project Worker at Stonewall Housing to find how the charity has adapted their work during the pandemic.
How has Covid-19 affected the work that you do?
When the first lockdown came into effect, we were all forced to work remotely from home. The biggest impact was on our service users, who are used to seeing us every day and have complex needs. Overnight, they lost the majority of their real-world support networks, from therapy to youth groups, drug and alcohol support to being able to see me, their key worker.
It was an extremely chaotic first few weeks. We had to ensure all service users had access to the basics; ways of contacting us remotely, by phone or online. Our service users usually live on extremely low incomes, so we had to make sure that they had food to eat because the supermarkets were empty. Some of our users were reliant on food banks, which were closed. We got PPE sent out to each scheme and sent them daily updates from the government as best we could.
Many of our service users work in the entertainment and hospitality industry, and so many lost their jobs. I’ve had lots of young people talk to me about how worried they are about losing LGBTQI spaces; bars, restaurants and club culture is a huge part of their identity.
How have you had to adapt to the current circumstances?
Like many, I’ve had to adapt by working the majority of my week from home. That’s difficult when you’re working with vulnerable people and supporting them from your own living space. There’s very little separation between home and work environments.
I have to be mindful of my own and my partners’ space, boundaries and wellbeing and make sure we spend time outside the house whenever we can.
All of my key work sessions became remote, so it’s taken time to for service users to adapt to having face time with me, or regular structured phone calls. All of our team and staff meeting are hosted on Zoom and we’ve recently taken steps to close our current head office and find new, smaller premises.
What help can you provide for individuals within the LGBTQI community?
Stonewall Housing provides housing advice, supported housing, mental health advocacy and domestic abuse support to people of all ages within the LGBTQI community. Our housing advice line is open to anyone in the UK, Monday – Friday between 10 am and 1pm. We have case workers who can provide advocacy with some cases and provide housing options to those homeless or threatened with homelessness.
In 2019 we launched the House Of Stonewall; a collaboration between Ambassadors and Champions, all determined to promote Stonewall Housing, raise funds for the organisation and end LGBTQI homelessness. All of our Ambassadors, the founding members of the House Of Stonewall, are LGBTQI people who have experienced homelessness. They know exactly what it’s like to have nowhere safe to go and they can tell you the real difference Stonewall Housing can make.
On 20 October, for World Homeless Day, we were thrilled to announce that DIVA Publisher Linda Riley has joined the House Of Stonewall as our first Golden Champion.
Linda experienced homelessness herself at 15 years old and so understands what it’s like to need the support of the community when you have nowhere safe to go. You can read more about this in her Champion interview on our website.
What are you doing to move forward in these difficult times?
For lockdown 2.0, we’re working hard to make sure that our service users feel as safe as possible and to be as prepared as we can for the winter months ahead. Christmas is usually our busiest time. It’s highly stressful and emotional which leads to family and relationship breakdowns and can lead to high levels of self-harm incidents.
We make sure that all of our residents have access to food and crisis services, and plan as early as we can to know where they’ll be for the festive period. Covid-wise, we’re continuing to work in line with governments rules and be as accessible as we can as a service, whether that’s virtually, digitally or in person.
How can people support Stonewall Housing?
1) Let people know who we are and what we do. We are commonly mistaken for Stonewall UK and this leads to confusion about our services.
2) Follow us on social media and encourage your friends to do the same!
3) Sign up to become a regular donor to directly support our work at www.stonewallhousing.org
4) Become a House of Stonewall Champion. To request a brochure and find out how email Fundraising@stonewallhousing.org
5) Join in our Winter Campaign by hosting us a fundraiser. Just email Fundraising@stonewallhousing.org and one of our team will help you plan it!
6) Support our Etsy Queermas fundraiser, with beautiful and bespoke pieces from artists across the world: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Queermas
Head to the Stonewall Housing website for more information on how they can help you, or call 020 739 5767.
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