Words: Will Stroude:
The UK's first permanent LGBTQ homeless shelter and community centre has opened in a previously disused fire station in London.
The 106-year-old Clerkenwell fire station in Islington, which has stood empty since it was permanently closed in 2014, has been given a second lease of life as a refuge for vulnerable LGBTQ people following a £50,000 investment from Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn.
The funding will enable LGBTQ homelessness charity The Outside Project, which helped house LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness in temporary space including a community centre and a converted bus, to run the emergency shelter for a year.
The new shelter will have the capacity to house 10 people in shared and private rooms on the first floor, while the former fire engine garage on the ground floor will become a community space for workshops and outreach programmes.
Figures indicate that up to 1 in 4 young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ, and mainstream services have often been accused of failing to meet the needs of people in the community who may be experiencing violence, rejection or sexual exploitation.
Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn and Labour MP for Islington South and Finbusry Emily Thornberry, spent Friday morning (3 May) visiting the site, where they met with volunteers from The Outside Project and people currently staying at the newly-opened site.
Speaking to Attitude, Mr Kahn said he was "proud" that London was one of the first cities to offer a dedicated space for LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness.
“What’s remarkable is we’re in 2019 and this is the UK’s first ever LGBTIQ+ homelessness shelter," the Mayor said.
“It’s really important we have this. Why? Because when I speak to the LGBTIQ+ community and those who are sleeping rough, those who are vulnerable, it’s quite clear that there is discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community.
"When you speak to certain members of the community, they feel scared and vulnerable coming forward to receive the services being provided.
"I’ve been meeting some of the guest here and their experience with some of the mainstream services is quite appalling really. That’s why it’s important to have bespoke services. We’ve got to realise that there is a specific expertise that’s needed there.”
Jessie Ashman, Hub Co-Ordinator for The Outside Project and a volunteer at the shelter, welcomed the support of Sadiq Kahn and Emily Thorberry as the charity settles into its new home.
"Having our own building is huge: it means we don’t have be out by a specific time, and we can use the space for more community work. We just couldn’t have it when we were in a temporary space," he says.
"To have our own space and to be welcomed by the Mayor is massive. Often LGBTQ people don’t feel like they’re valued by government powers and we don’t feel like we can take up spac.
"It’s heart-warming in terms of making people feel valued and feeling like they’re part of London and the community.
For more information about The Outside Project and the new LGBTQ homeless shelter and community centre click here.