Published: 06:00, 27 September 2020
| Updated: 16:00, 29 September 2020
People from the LGBTQ+ community are some of the most vulnerable if they find themselves sleeping rough, according to a charity in Medway.
Valerio Montironi, a project worker for AMAT UK in Chatham, said young LGBTQ+ people can get caught in situations where they feel their last resort is to use hook-up apps like Grindr to find a place to stay, leading them to feel forced into having sex.
Valerio's new project, Friends of Dorothy, aims to offer supported housing for people who find themselves homeless, as well as helping them transition from the harsh environment of sleeping rough.
The project worker hopes the new service will convince those who feel vulnerable to stay in the area, rather than travelling to London where opportunities to meet people on dating apps is much more prevalent.
The 34-year-old said: "To have shelter, they might go on one of these apps, find a meet for the night and spend the night with them.
"But obviously they feel forced into having sex with them, because that is what it's all about."
According to Valerio, a large number of homeless LGBTQ+ adults end up having sex in exchange for rent.
Valerio said people can also end up being manipulated by others by ending up in chemsex parties - a chemsex party is sexual activity usually involving multiple people, all under the influence of drugs.
They said: "I remember the story of two guys that found an older man, and they ended up living in his house organising chemsex parties for him at the weekend.
"They didn't realise they were in a kind of modern slavery situation - they had no house keys, and they were using everyday because he was providing them with drugs everyday."
Valerio hopes the project will eventually grow, and AMAT will be able to support a greater number of people from the LGBTQ+ community who find themselves in need of help.
Research suggests one of the reasons young LGBTQ+ people find themselves homeless is due to the fear of coming out to their families.
Dr Carin Tunåker, from Canterbury, spent time working with homeless charity Porchlight to explore the issue for her doctoral thesis.
She said: "Often their sexual orientation was linked to homeless in intertwined ways, for example somebody might have become homeless because they had arguments with their family, and they will then be recorded as relationship breakdown as their reason for becoming homeless, but why did those arguments begin?
"Sometimes it might be because the person has come out, and the family are not accepting of their identities, or they don't come out - and this is very common - because they fear the family will not be accepting and they run away because they think that the family are not going to embrace them."
Another barrier to understanding the prevalence of LGBTQ+ homelessness is a willingness for people to open up to charities and organisations.
Dr Tunåker said: "What I found is that LGBT homelessness is very misrepresented, mostly because it's very difficult to get data for this issue.
'They fear the family will not be accepting and they run away...'
"People do record a lot of data in homeless organisations and do a great job, but sexual orientation and gender identity are still quite taboo subjects, they're very personal, and not many people feel like they're able to disclose this when they first come to an organisation."
To ensure LGBTQ+ people understand the support is available for them, Porchlight set up the BeYou project.
The service offers them support around exploring their identity, coming out and family relationships.
The charity says that like those from other marginalised communities, people who identify as LGBTQ+ are at increased risk of mental health problems, self-harm or even suicide.
Tyde Farrant, 21, from Sittingbourne, was assigned female at birth but is in the process of transitioning to male.
He found himself in need of support from the BeYou project a few months into hormone therapy.
He said: "I experience anxiety, but having a safe environment where I can make friends with others from the LGBT+ community has helped me feel more comfortable.
"I felt so cooped up before and didn’t realise how much I wasn’t talking to people.
"I felt unable to express myself publicly, but now I feel more confident going outside as myself. "It also reassured me that I wasn’t the only LGBT+ person where I lived."
The BeYou Project is not yet available in all parts of the county, including Medway, so the charity advises checking their website to find out the applicable areas.
The Friends of Dorothy project in Chatham will initially be able to support three people from the LGBTQ+ community from the end of September, with the hope to increase that support in the coming months.
Hilary Cooke, CEO of the Medway Gender & Sexual Diversity Centre, said: "I am aware of the Friends of Dorothy Project run by AMAT and very supportive for the provision of LGBTQIA+ housing project.
"Unfortunately we still see people, especially young people who are made homeless by unsupportive families.
"Having the project locally is a fantastic asset for Medway as historically we would of referred people to London and national organisations like the Albert Kennedy Trust or Stonewall Housing."