âIt was liberating and exhilarating,â Ali said. âIt was the very first time in my life that I had nothing to fear. I could finally begin to imagine following my dreams without fear of being hated or hurt.
The Home Office hosted Ali on his first night in the UK before he was moved to independent accommodation by his local council. But when he spoke to The Big Issue, he had been waiting for his asylum claim to be accepted for two and a half years – a process which the UK government says typically takes around six months.
âIt has been a very frustrating process,â Ali said. ” It’s been such a long time. Fortunately for me, due to my age and the support I received – from the local authority and my college – it was much more bearable than it could have been otherwise. “
Ali has been moved between four different homes since arriving in the UK. The first three were “just awful,” he said, shabby and with very little space he had to share with foreigners as his right to stay in the UK was on the line indefinitely.
âThere was no privacy, there were no borders,â Ali added. He finally experienced what he describes as a “breakdown” due to the fact that his asylum application did not advance.
But the homeless youth charity Centrepoint has stepped in to support his well-being and help him move into his current apartment, where he has his own kitchen and bathroom and is “much more. happy”.
Ali is now studying biology, chemistry and physics in college with a view to studying neuroscience in college. This is made possible by the Centrepoint scholarship, which helped him afford hundreds of textbook books and move to and from classes. As an asylum seeker he is not allowed to work – under the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ policies package – but he does volunteer work for the Mosaic Initiative, a charity that helps refugees to find employment.
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âThey educated and encouraged me to be myself, not to be afraid to explore who I am,â Ali said. “Which is probably the most precious gift anyone can give me.” “
Ali only came out right before Pride in 2019. It wasn’t until his involvement with the charity and the opportunity to be with other LGBTQ + people that he felt safe to speak out. openly about his sexual orientation.
âIf you’re an LGBT person who doesn’t know the language and doesn’t know the culture, you feel alienated,â he added. But the “combination of support” he received, especially from Centrepoint, made his life “much easier in the UK” for him.
There are a lot of asylum seekers like Ali, he said, who come to the UK in the hope that they can build their lives without being discriminated against for who they are. âOur fears are real,â he said. âIt is very difficult to spend every night afraid of someone telling the government that you are gay, or fear that someone will attack you for your religion or for any other reason that you might come to the Kingdom- United.
Ali shares his story to “encourage people not to be afraid of who they are and to understand the differences from each other,” he said.
Identification as a member of the LGBTQ + community is “absolutely a factor” in making young people homeless, according to Monica Gallo, senior practitioner and psychotherapist at Centrepoint.
âYoung people today may be more open and tolerant, but there is still a lot of stigma and intolerance among previous generations,â she told The Big Issue.
âThe levels of transphobia and / or homophobia that these young people may experience at home or in their community increase their risk of homelessness.
âMany of our young people are already experiencing family rejection, abuse or violence in their education. Think about how much that could increase with our LGBTQ + youth and what message it sends them about their identity.
Once homeless, LGBTQ + youth are at a higher risk of exploitation and grooming, Gallo added. It’s a risk all homeless youth face, she said, but âthe dynamics of this change change as they seek some stability and someone accepts them for what they want. are “.
Courtney – whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity – grew up in London before moving to Sweden with her family as a teenager. But by the time she was in her mid teens, she didn’t feel safe at home because of her parents’ strict Christian views.
âIt was like you were the devil if you were gay,â she told The Big Issue. “When I told my parents it was me, this is who I am, they didn’t accept it.”
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If we don’t act, the UK faces a homelessness crisis this fall.
Courtney’s family told her she had to change. âThey tried to pray for me. I couldn’t wear the clothes I wanted to wear, they made me wear dresses, and it was a battle between who I was and who my parents wanted me to be. My mental health was deteriorating. “
At only 15, she felt she had no choice but to leave the house. âI thought it was the only way to save myself,â she said.
Courtney spoke about her situation to her best friend in London via Facebook, who said she could come live with her.
âShe said yes, my mother will accept you. My parents didn’t want me to go but they talked to her and finally said okay, cool, we’re staying in Sweden but you can go back to your friend.
Things turned out well for Courtney once she returned to London, for a short time, as she settled back into school and into her new life. But soon she and her friend were both kicked out of their home and forced to “couch surf” for about three months, sleeping in the available space with friends for short periods before moving to the place. following.
Courtney described feeling “detached from what was really going on” and being too young to grasp the gravity of her situation. She didn’t tell her parents how she was living as she felt she couldn’t admit that her move hadn’t gone as planned. Her only support came from the youth club she frequented and her then-girlfriend’s mother, who called social services on her behalf.
She was eventually put in touch with Centrepoint, who found Courtney a place in an inn. After a month, she had her own room. But the instability meant “it was all gone out the window” as she struggled to stay in college.
Courtney lived in hostels until she was 22. Now, finally in her own apartment – “I actually have a place to call home” – the Centrepoint Bursary helps her pay for essentials like rent and food.
Sexual orientation makes a “big difference” to a person’s experience of homelessness, Courtney said. âThere are all these stereotypes. First, because she is LGBT, because she is also black and because she is a woman.
âYou are automatically judged and feel like you have to work harder for someone to see who you are. They only see your sexuality or your race. I don’t think a lot of straight guys have people they’ve just met who ask them, “How did your mother accept your sexuality?” You get all of these questions before they speak to you as a person.
Courtney is now studying counseling and doing a part-time internship as a counselor at an elementary school. She thinks her education gives her new insight into what she went through as a child.
âI’m very proud of this little girl who had the courage to say, I’m just going to go,â she said. âI am proud to have come this far, to study and to have a job. I regret nothing.
Courtney is still in contact with her family, with whom she now has a good relationship. She hopes her own experiences will help her support young people who are going through their own difficulties. âI feel like I can be a good representative for my community, being Black and LGBTQ +,â she said. âIf that’s how you identify with yourself as a kid, in my experience it’s really hard to get help from people who understand you. But I hope I can be that for someone.
The Centrepoint scholarship helps homeless youth to continue their education and find employment. Through make a donation in the scholarship program, you could play a vital role in shaping a young person’s future.