London Will Receive Its First Permanent LGBTQ Homeless Shelter Following Successful Trial Program

The U.K.’s LGBTQ homeless community will be getting its first permanent crisis shelter to address the growing number of people sleeping on the street, reports NBC.

The U.K. is facing a growing epidemic as homelessness increases at an alarming rate — a recent government report marked homelessness as a “national crisis.” Between 2010 and 2016, the number of homeless people increased 134 percent, with LGBTQ people comprising 24 percent of homeless people under the age of 25. U.K.-based LGBTQ advocacy group The Albert Kennedy Trust reported that the increasing rate of homelessness among LGBTQ youths is due to social stigma and family rejection.

A successful pilot project started earlier this year is allowing Britain to receive its first LGBTQ crisis shelter to address the homelessness issue.

The homeless shelter, known as The Outside Project, was created by Carla Ecola, a self-described queer homelessness activist. After spending five years living on the street, constantly moving from one place to the next, Ecola witnessed firsthand the lack of resources available to the LGBTQ community in the U.K. She decided that she wanted to help others in similar circumstances and set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the project.

“There are relatively more queer people who are homeless, but we’re not really seeing this reflected in service provision,” Ecola commented to NBC News. “I thought ‘Why don’t we set up a shelter specifically for the LGBTQ community?’ So I got a team together, and everyone was really in support of the idea.”

Ecola raised £11,500 ($14,827) through the campaign and used the money to buy a 12-bed bus. She explained that she wanted to create a welcoming and safe atmosphere for London’s most vulnerable LGBTQ homeless residents, many of whom did not have positive experiences in mainstream shelters.

The success of the program, which operated from December 2017 to March 2018, allowed her to access government funding to be able to set up a permanent LGBTQ community center and night shelter. When the shelter opens, visitors and residents will not only have a safe space to live and receive support, they will also have access to a number of LGBTQ resources, including home and employment advice. The shelter will be managed by both The Outside Project and Stonewall Housing, an organization that specializes in LGBTQ housing.

Ecola was relieved to get the call from the mayor’s office about the funding, reported NBC.

“From an activist point of view, I felt really proud that our movement had created that space to demonstrate its need and get a government response within just one year, but our community shouldn’t have to self-fund services that respond to the symptoms of systemic oppression.”