Support for Younger Bis

BCN 119 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 119, Summer 2013

The Albert Kennedy Trust’s Manchester Office is in a very pink building. I ventured there to interview Annette Pinner, the Manchester Operations Manager, on a very sunny June day recently.

What does AKT mean to you? How would you explain its history?
It’s really important, and the 25th Anniversary is coming up in 2014 so we’re all thinking about that, and about how the need is still very much there for LGBT young people to have somewhere to go when they’re homeless, or in a vulnerable housing situation. The trust was founded in 1989 by an experienced foster carer, Cath Hall, who saw that LGBT young people were facing rejection and a lack of support from their families, their communities and society as a whole. At around the same time a young man, Albert Kennedy, a sixteen-year-old who was in care, fell to his death from a Manchester car park in circumstances that are still unexplained, although we do know that he was facing issues related to his sexuality.

The trust was named after him, and initially set up supported lodgings, so that other LGBT young people would have a positive and welcoming environment in which to live for up to two years. The organisation has grown to provide a wide range of services in Manchester, and in London. More recently, with the merging of AKT and Outpost, these services can also be offered in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Although attitudes have changed over the years, and the situation is better for many LGBT young people, some still find that their sexuality, their gender identity or both, can cause massive difficulties in their lives and their housing situations. Many of those now being helped by AKT have complex issues, involving mental health issues, disability or drug use in addition to those around sexuality, gender identity and housing.

How did you get involved?
Through a job advert! I wanted to move more into social care, having worked in the charitable sector before and also having a background in psychotherapy. I was very impressed by the utter commitment from everyone at AKT and so was delighted to be offered the job.

What would you say are typical young people that AKT helps?
There’s no such thing as a typical case! AKT takes pride in understanding the challenges and needs of every individual on a case-by-case basis. As well as the need for accommodation, many of those helped feel isolated and have a sparse social network, leading to increased problems and issues around areas that include:
·    Mental health
·    Sexual health
·    Physical health
·    Financial support
·    Personal relationships with partners and/or families
·    Substance misuse

AKT workers and volunteers have to be able to deal with multiple needs and help their clients hold everything together, including making sure that they are able to get to all their appointments with other services. Support can also be provided to help LGBT young people fill in all the necessary forms and to access the education and training that will enable them to move forwards with their lives. Where AKT can’t help directly, many services are provided by partner organisation by means of referrals to whichever would suit the individual best. AKT aim to give as much help as an individual needs, within the resources they have available, and then to tail off the help as the need reduces.

Can you provide statistics about the young people you help?
Currently in London we see around 13% who identify as bisexual, 50% gay, 2% heterosexual, 30% lesbian and 5% questioning their sexuality, with 12% identifying as trans* and 6% questioning their gender identity. The pattern is similar in Manchester although the numbers are slightly lower for those identifying as lesbian and slightly higher for those questioning their sexuality or gender identity.

According to one AKT survey, the most likely time for young people to come out to their families is between 16 and 18 with only a third reporting no problems when they do so, and 25% saying they have not come out due to fearing their family’s reaction. In another survey by AKT 51% of respondents found coming out to their families difficult or very difficult.

Not surprisingly young LGBT people have been found to be at significant risk of self-harm, low self-esteem and suicide attempts. Additionally two-thirds of young men helped by AKT have been offered or forced to trade sex for a place to stay, further increasing their problems by the time they come to the trust for help

What areas have you seen the most changes in recently?
In London a lot more young people are coming from minority ethnic groups, with only 25% now identifying as White British. By contrast around 30% of the young people AKT helps in Manchester come from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. AKT is also seeing an increase in the number of bisexual and trans* young people, although perhaps there are more out there in need of help. The message needs to be got across more forcefully that AKT is there for them as well.

What are the services that AKT provides in London and Manchester?
In both cities, AKT provides supported lodgings for young people with hosts who have been assessed and trained to at least the national Foster Care Minimum Standards, as well as help finding accommodation outside the scheme, and also access to adult mentors: volunteers who are trained to develop a one-to-one relationship that is supportive, respectful and non-judgemental. At weekly or fortnightly meetings, Mentors are able to provide a role-model and guidance to the LGBT young person they are working with as well as offering practical support with tasks such as filling in forms, money management, or interview techniques. In the near future, AKT plans to open safe houses in both London and Manchester to supplement the supported lodgings scheme.

Do the services provided by AKT Outpost differ in any way?
Outpost has historically been more of an accommodation-based service, offering self-contained flats and bedsits with floating support workers. This is similar to AKT’s plans for safe houses in Manchester and London, while Outpost has started a Mentoring scheme. The two organisations have a lot they can learn from each other as the merger continues!

What about the national schemes that AKT organises?
You mean the Quality Mark? This is a training scheme aimed mainly at housing providers, although AKT has also adapted it to fit the needs of other organisations, including Cheshire Police. The scheme allows organisations to understand the issues faced by LGBT people and how to service and meet these needs. It also addresses what doesn’t get done: an organisation can think it’s welcoming to LGBT people, but it also needs to tell them that they’re welcome!

How can people help directly? Through fundraising?
AKT would love it if everyone could spread the word that they’re out there to help bisexual young people in the cities where the Trust operates. They also have a big need for more bisexual Mentors and Carers (for the supported lodgings) in those places. Additionally, a scheme has been trialled in London that AKT hopes to roll out elsewhere for people with flexible time commitments to act as advocates and go with LGBT young people to appointments for e.g. accommodation applications or benefits assessments. This has worked very well but the timing is unpredictable.

AKT needs people to support their fundraising events (such as the Big Purple Weekender in Manchester at the end of June), to organise fundraising, and to set up regular donations, so that AKT can continue to expand and help more of those needing its services.

Do you have any Big Name patrons?
We have several, including Sir Ian McKellen, and they’re all listed on our website! Of course, we’d love more famous bisexuals to become patrons and raise awareness of our work!

What are AKT’s urgent needs right now?
We want to respond to as many LGBT young people in need as we can, but for that we need more resources. More staff would help, but first we need the funding…

What are AKTs plans and aspirations for the future?
We want to set up an online mentoring service for LGBT young people who find transport into city centres difficult. We’re also very focussed on finding out what young people can tell us about their needs and, as a result of those discussions, we plan to bring out literature that can be given to families in order to support young people as they come out. Telling families can be difficult, but young people have said that having printed materials would work far better than anything else in giving them the confidence to anticipate their families’ questions and reactions. Plus family members can then go away and read the resources in their own time, as and when they feel able.

What other lobbying/awareness-raising work does AKT do?
We do lobbying within the resources we have available, and also have some good contacts among MPs who we can talk to about issues that may be coming up around LGBT young people and/or homelessness. We also have good local support from a number of councillors.

And finally, do you have any messages for BCN readers?
Please support us!
·    If you know any young bisexual people facing difficulty due to their sexuality, in London, Manchester, or Newcastle, tell them to contact AKT.
·    Please support us by volunteering (if local to one of AKT’s offices) or by fundraising and donating.

Where can they find out more?
At the website: www.akt.org.uk

Please support AKT however you can: they provide a very valuable service, and they’re all lovely people.

Gina M Dungworth