LGBT History Month Guest Blog: housing and support for older people

Written by Tai Pawb

At the end of 2019, we produced, with Ross Thomas from Tai Pawb and Chris Thomas from Trivallis, our good practice guide (funded by Riverside) on LGBT+ older people and sheltered and retirement housing.

Here’s why:

“Many gay and lesbian people have faced years of discrimination. They have a right to appropriate housing and support as they age”

“Home is particularly important for the older LGBT+ generation who often do not feel safe in the wider world, and isolation continues to be a major concern”

 (Guardian, 27 June 2016)

Erosh members had also reported incidents of discrimination experienced by LGBT+ people moving  into sheltered and retirement housing schemes to the extent that in some cases they chose to no longer be ‘out’.  LGBT+ older people struggle to find ‘friendly’ accommodation; specialist schemes are rare; and sheltered and retirement housing providers tend not to advertise schemes as ‘LGBT-friendly’ even when they are. Although the Equality Act 2010 has to some extent reduced overt prejudice, the discrimination, fear and isolation LGBT+ older people experience continues to impact on their expectations of housing, support and care, and their anxiety about facing further discrimination and homophobia.

We identified therefore a clear need for greater understanding of the needs and concerns of LGBT+ older people to provide them with better support, to help overcome discrimination and homophobia, and actively promote schemes and services as LGBT-friendly. We also wanted to showcase the good practice that pioneering organisations like Trivallis have adopted. Staff wanted to do more to support LGBT+ older tenants and to demonstrate that they were safe to come out. Trivallis has adopted a comprehensive and proactive approach to supporting LGBT+ customers and staff, led by dedicated champions.

Sheltered and retirement housing providers play a key role in making schemes a safe, secure environment where LGBT+ people feel understood and are comfortable with openly being themselves and expressing their needs and preferences; and where homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, prejudice, bullying and harassment are identified and challenged.

It is important to recognise that not all LGBT+ people are a homogenous group and talking to people about their needs and preferences is crucial. Staff need to be appropriately trained, and policies and procedures should specifically refer to LGBT+ people. Monitoring and reporting procedures must be robust, and the needs of LGBT+ older people considered when designing services and undertaking support planning and needs assessments (including the needs of LGBT+ older people with dementia who may face additional challenges). With the help of LGBT+ champions amongst staff, on boards and resident groups, positive messages can be reinforced as well as through use of appropriate imagery and language. Relationships can be established with local LGBT+ groups and specialist support services, and clear guidance provided on how to complain about homophobia, transphobia, prejudice, discrimination, bullying and harassment. Not forgetting of course the Tai Pawb Quality, Equality and Diversity Award (QED) and the Erosh Code of Practice which provide a framework and standards for reviewing and improving equality and diversity.

Although there is still some way to go, it has been fantastic to see so much interest in our good practice guide and conference workshops. We now look forward to seeing sheltered and retirement housing providers convert this interest into positive practice.

Rebecca Mollart is CEO of Erosh, the national consortium for older people’s housing and support. 

Chris Thomas is Care & Support Service Development Co-ordinator at Trivallis.