My name is Cat. I am one of 4 supported housing officers for Stonewall Housing. I manage two schemes in our Islington Borough including our female only project.
I have worked for Stonewall Housing for five years and it has undoubtedly given me such amazing experience and insight into the harsh realities and secret truths of being LGBT and homeless.
I could write a book; ‘The secret diary of a lesbian support worker’,
Being homeless alone can be a terrifying, isolating and undermining experience.
When you take into account additional pressures that the LGBT community face, Stonewall Housing has often been described as a haven, a safe space where you can ‘be who you are’.
Until you have physically seen the varied results of how homelessness can break a person, you will not appreciate how privileged you are to have a home. More than once I have swallowed a large slice of humble pie after a support session with a client.
Homelessness can happen on any day, at any time, and you might not know about it. You may come home to find the locks changed and your possessions in bin bags. You might not be lucky enough to get the bin bags. A large number of our clients are made homeless directly as a result of their sexuality or gender identity. If you are outed without consent, this often limits other places you can go- often forced to sleeping rough rather than face questions about why you can’t go home.
This pattern continues when clients approach local authorities for help or assistance with housing- they are simply too afraid or reluctant to disclose about why their parents/ partners/ friend/ family member/ landlord won’t let them return. This is why it is so important that the LGBT community and its allies should know about Stonewall Housing, and have access to our services.
ABOUT THE FEMALE HOUSE
Its extremely important for some clients to live surrounded by females, and have a female worker. When asked why, feedback is anything from improving self-esteem to the relief of escaping male dominated/ abusive environments.
Other feedback indicates that for girls just coming out, that it has helped them form social and professional links into the LGBT world, widen their networks and find other services available to them.
The house is made up of nine self-contained bedrooms and shared kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. It’s got a homely feel to it and we intend to keep it that way.
As my office is based on site, it’s important that privacy is maintained and the girls feel just as safe and comfortable as I do in my own home. It’s great having an office on site; I have an open door policy and the girls and I have decorated the walls over the years. You may be envisioning a Tracey Beaker-esque picture; trust me, you couldn’t get further from it. You’ll find anything from feminist quotes magnified on the walls, plus-size model posters, lesbian puns and LOL Cat pictures and Lady GaGa lyrics scribbled in the corners. The office is a place of freedom and expression, not a clinic where you are forced to sit up straight and spill your inner most secrets.
I am open with my clients about my sexuality. I think it’s important for them to feel that they can approach me about LBT related issues. You wouldn’t believe how often I talk about sex and relationships in my job. Quite frankly -you aren’t taught at school about how lesbians have sex, how to have safe sex… how to mend a broken heart, how to identify abusive relationships. Many of these topics would be shared with your mum, your sibling, your friend. If they don’t have that, they have me. And tea. I have lots of tea.
Any nine females living within close proximity together will bring as many dramas and tantrums as there are hugs and girly nights in. As they are young and impressionable women I try to ensure that I am a positive female role model and treat all clients with respect and dignity. Girls as young as 17 currently live in the scheme and are still learning about what their sexuality means to them, what their dress sense is, what they want to do with their education, employment as well as learning the ropes about how to survive the ‘hostel system’- welfare benefits, sharing facilities, buying your own food for the first time and learning that Tescos is actually a luxury supermarket, not a budget one. So being human, being honest with these women is imperative; they are living through a learning curve that could shape the way they live until they get to the next chapter.
As a housing support worker, it is essentially my job to ensure that the young women maintain their tenancies, from paying rent regularly to independent living skills, cooking, cleaning, hygiene, self respect, learning to become assertive and protect what is theirs. Give an 18 year old their own keys to flat without a curfew and space for a party? It’s gonna happen. It’s about teaching them to respect their neighbours, how to manage disputes and prevent eviction at all times.
We give tenancies, not licenses. Residents have more security, more freedom and the service results in fewer evictions because of this. .
BEST BITS OF LIVING WITH GIRLS
I’ve listened to girls tell me how nice it is to walk around without a bra on, how good it feels to get changed without feeling like they will be accused of ‘trying it on’ with any given female around. They tell me how great it is to bring their partners to the house, to be openly affectionate and not have to give the introduction ‘this is my friend’.
More than anything, friendship is formed here. You can’t live with someone for two years and not share a moment. You could be down to your last pound, have been sanctioned, had a row with your partner and need to borrow a couple of quid from your house mate until your next pay day- and it is given. It could be any of them the following week. I have witnessed such loyalty and acts of kindness from the residents over my past two years at this project and it is hard not to be proud of them for learning even that small lesson in life.
Stonewall Housings Female-only house, has just won an award for best all female LGBT youth group award. This has been recognised nationally and has resulted in Stonewall Housing being named L Fest’s Charity of the Year.
We have been fortunate enough to receive some free tickets to this years L Fest in Staffordshire, so we’re about to bake some cakes, raise some funding, find some tents and wellies and drive a minibus of girls for a three day camping trip!
This will be our first residential and we are all very excited about it. Residents and staff will be holding a stall over the festival, so if you’re around, come say hi, come meet us, and learn a bit more about what we do. I’ll be the one screaming over Kate Moenig…