A group of LGBTQ+ homelessness charities have joined forces to create the first specialist night shelter in the city.
Opening its doors on January 23, the referral-only shelter is offering a safe space and 10 beds at a secure location in Brighton as part of its 10-week pilot.
Charity Switchboard is leading the project, backed by funding from The Rainbow Fund, while Stonewall Housing is providing a housing advocate and The Outside Project is providing support with the model behind the shelter.
Jacob Bayliss, Switchboard chief executive, told The Big Issue the small charity spent up to £10,000 last year on hotel rooms and the new shelter is already filling a gap in support.
“There was a huge gap and it feels like a big step forward. We’re seen as the gay capital, rightly or wrongly, so we ought to be leading the way in a lot of areas but are we?” said Bayliss.
“We can compare ourselves to cities like London or Manchester when we think about population density but we’re nowhere near as well resourced as a sector. So I think this is the beginning of a journey. It really is a first step.”
Brighton and Hove has long been renowned for its thriving LGBTQ+ community and Census data released in January confirmed it had the largest LGB+ population in England and Wales with 10.7 per cent of the population identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Organisers have also secured donated clothing, including winter coats, and are working with local businesses to source hot food.
“Between us we’re providing a brand-new resource for the city that has been so needed for so long,” Steven McIntyre, Stonewall Housing chief executive, told The Big Issue. “We’re hoping to make a real difference for people across this pilot scheme. It’s about safety, bringing people in off the streets and giving them a place to live to move into secure accommodation.
“We also want to demonstrate the level of need in the city and show people who fund services like this, people who want to make a real difference, that actually we need to resource something specifically for LGBTQ+ people in Brighton and Hove. I’m really hopeful this will turn into something year-round and have a legacy in Brighton and Hove.”
The idea for the project stems from a housing conference held last June bringing together LGBTQ+ charities, housing organisations and other local experts in Brighton and Hove.
All attendees were in agreement that more was needed to tackle homelessness among LGBTQ+ communities.
“There were a lot of different LGBT and housing charities at the conference and they were all saying the same thing: that there weren’t any bed spaces and support services,” said Carla Ecola, the co-founder and managing director of The Outside Project, an LGBTIQ+ community shelter in London.
“My message at that conference was: do something about it. Switchboard agreed. I have loved working with them. They needed to make that decision and take that step to do something about the homelessness issues in Brighton.”
Guests have started staying at the shelter and Bayliss has already seen the difference in the people the charity is helping to support and the wider LGBTQ+ communities.
“Being able to see someone in crisis and say: ‘You’ve got somewhere to stay tonight’ you immediately see that moment where that tension releases a bit. It’s a bit of space to breathe and to think and get back on track, you can actually address all the different parts of the web when housing is covered for someone,” he said.
“I think the response we’ve had from the community has been incredible. Just the number of people who’ve said this is incredible or if something like this was available 10 years ago it would have changed the trajectory of my life. That has really cemented that this was the right thing to do.”