Britain’s first ever homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ people could be open as early as this winter if a new initiative can secure the funding, according to BuzzFeed. Due to hate crimes, domestic abuse, family rejection and poor mental health, LGBTQ+ people are at a greater risk of sleeping rough, but now homelessness outreach worker, Carla Ecola, is aiming to provide them somewhere safe to sleep with The Outside Project.
When searching for affordable options, Ecola had the idea of refit former tour buses to create small, mobile shelters. She came across the tour bus previously owned by the rock band, Status Quo and decided to launch a Just Giving Page to fund the pilot program. At the time of writing, she’s raised over £5,000 of the £10,000 required to purchase and repurpose the bus so that each of the 12 occupants would have their own small, private space on the bus with a curtain for privacy.
Based in London, the bus would be parked in safe location overnight and have two members of staff awake through the night to look after the occupants. “We’re looking at organisations already in the sector that have space,” Ecola explained. However, the bus could move around every few weeks, depending on which charities have space in the grounds or car parks to accommodate them.
If Ecola can raise the funds for the pilot program, she believes it could be up and running as soon as this winter.
'Abuse in the home, hate crimes, substance misuse. All the main contributing factors to people becoming homeless hit our community harder.'
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community who spent most of her twenties homeless, Ecola understands firsthand the complications associated for members of the LGBTQ+ community when they’re seeking somewhere safe to sleep.
Talking to BuzzFeed, she explained, “First of all, the services don’t exist – if you’re a gay man or a man in general fleeing domestic violence there are no refuges for men. For trans women there is general access to refuges but they can still be challenged. And there are complications: abuse in the home, hate crimes, substance misuse. All the main contributing factors to people becoming homeless hit our community harder.”
Ecola herself was forced into homelessness when her family refused to accept her sexuality. “I left Birmingham after a really awful relationship and [after] moving in with my grandparents, who then asked me to leave when they found out I was gay.”
After five years of being homeless, Ecola finally received the help she needed and has spent the last eight years working as a homeless outreach worker. Last year, she moved in with her wife, which she describes as a bittersweet experience. “I realised that I’d never felt comfortable where I’ve lived,” she said. “I was quite sad about the fact that I’d never really had stable housing before or felt I had anywhere that was my own, never had a proper tenancy.”
It was this realisation that sparked her decision to try and create the UK’s first homeless shelter for the LGBTQ+ community.
You can donate to Carla Ecola’s Just Giving page here.