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July 15, 2019 | by  | in News | [ssba]

The Community Without A Home: Queer Homeslessness in Aotearoa

LGBTIQ+ homelessness is a massive issue in New Zealand, and yet we know almost nothing about it. Despite the wider public discourse on homelessness, LGBTIQ+ homelessness is rarely discussed. 


In New Zealand, homelessness is defined as severe housing deprivation, which includes two main criteria: 

(1) that a person is living in severely inadequate housing due to; 

(2) a lack of access to housing that meets a minimum adequacy standard (rather than living in such circumstances by choice). 


Severe housing deprivation consists of experience of any two of three categories: inadequate privacy and control, inadequate security of tenure, and inadequate/uninhabitable structure. 


Homelessness thus includes rough sleeping, couch surfing, living in shelters and women’s refuges, and living in cars, caravans, and tents. At the 2013 Census, there were nearly 41,000 New Zealanders who were identified as being homeless/severely housing-deprived. That’s 1% of our total population.


People who identify as LGBTIQ+ are more likely to be homeless than our non-LGBTIQ+ counterparts. Internationally, LGBTIQ+ people comprise 20–40% of homeless populations, whilst only comprising 5–10% of the wider population. LGBTIQ+ people who experience homelessness also face greater risks than their non-LGBTIQ+ homeless counterparts.  


These risks include substance use, mental health difficulties, sexual abuse, foster care placement, family relationship breakdown, survival sex and sex work, and HIV infection. All of these intersect with each other—as well as additional factors such as inaccessible shelters, and discrimination and stigma—to create a complex system of homelessness.


Despite this over-representation in homelessness statistics internationally, there is not yet any data on the prevalence of LGBTIQ+ homelessness in Aotearoa New Zealand. Statistics New Zealand have still not included questions about sexual orientation or gender identity in the Census. Additionally, a recent Statistics NZ guideline document grouped “pedosexual” with a number of queer identities. 


Statistics NZ have made steps towards including sexual orientation questions on the General Social Survey (the results of which are currently being released), but as that only surveys households, it is not particularly useful in obtaining information about people who are homeless. Compounding this, there is a dearth of quality statistics on LGBTIQ+ people in New Zealand in general, which makes it difficult for our needs to be taken seriously. 


At the 2017 election, the Labour party included a single sentence about LGBTIQ+ homelessness in their Rainbow policy, which stated they would “ensure the needs and specific circumstances of young Rainbow people are actively addressed in our strategies to reduce homelessness.” 


The policy document did not state what the Labour party thought those needs were, nor how they planned to address those needs. We have not heard anything more about this policy plan since the Labour party formed government. 


As a starting place to explore LGBTIQ+ homelessness in New Zealand, my PhD research is using interviews and video to investigate LGBTIQ+ people’s experiences of homelessness. This will be used to create a framework about how to best meet the needs of LGBTIQ+ people who are homeless in New Zealand. The aim is to give the framework to service providers—such as homeless shelters—in order to ensure they are providing queer-friendly services for their clients. 


There is one other similar researcher up in Auckland, Tycho Vandenburg, who is currently doing a PhD on transgender and gender-diverse homelessness. Their research focuses on pathways into homelessness, experiences while homeless, and an exploration of resilience and resistance. 


Hopefully, our research can serve to highlight the issue of LGBTIQ+ homelessness in New Zealand, and facilitate discussions about how to best meet the needs of a marginalised and vulnerable population. We cannot continue to ignore such a vulnerable population. 


Brodie Fraser is a PhD candidate at the University of Otago, Wellington. Her research is in public health, exploring LGBTIQ+ people’s experiences of homelessness.


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