The Outside Project: providing help for vulnerable people in our LGBTIQ+ communities

The Outside Project: providing help for vulnerable people in our LGBTIQ+ communities

The Outside Project: providing help for vulnerable people in our LGBTIQ+ communities 1920 1280 WeMakeCamden

The Outside Project supports people in our LGBTIQ+ communities who are experiencing homelessness, living in precarious situations or having difficulties accessing services. They were nominated along with other local organisations for their work supporting COVID-19 vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness. Jesse Ashman, Partnerships Manager and Recovery Worker, discusses the important work The Outside Project has been doing since the pandemic began.

“Over the past year we’ve become at different times a vaccination centre, sports ground, make-up studio, sexual health clinic, day centre, hairdressers and yoga studio.”

How has The Outside Project adapted in the pandemic? What new challenges have you faced?

During the pandemic, we have faced support services either moving to digital only or closing entirely. Many of the networks our guests relied on significantly scaled back their offering.
We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to stay open and have a great staff team, other groups around us who have been willing to help out, and a community that supports us. 

What was a night shelter has had to change to being open 24/7 and being one of the few spaces homeless LGBTIQ+ people still have access to. Over the past year we’ve become at different times a vaccination centre, sports ground, make-up studio, sexual health clinic, day centre, hairdressers and yoga studio. We have also opened STAR Refuge, a domestic violence and abuse refuge for LGBTIQ+ people, and provided additional emergency shelter accommodation in COVID-safe hotels.

A white man with close cropped blonde hair and ear piercings, wearing a black T-shirt smiles for the camera

What lessons have you learned from the pandemic?

I think it was something that we knew already, we learned that we cannot rely on the structures already in place for homeless LGBTIQ+ people to keep us safe, but that we do always have the support of others in our community, friends, family and supporters. People who have been struggling themselves have still been able to rally together and support each other. 

We started the London LGBTIQ+ COVID-19 mutual aid support group, which now has over 2,000 members, and launched our virtual community centre for people unable to meet in person to be able to keep in touch with their community. The most successful initiatives to come out of this have been Queer House Party and Book28’s virtual reading group.

We have also been able to keep our increased accommodation offer and our refuge open – and we couldn’t have done this without the support we received from the community.

What are The Outside Project’s hopes for the future?

We’re in the process of opening our community centre in Southwark, which will be accessible to LGBTIQ+ people from any London borough, and are launching new groups and programmes at this location, such as the Queer Leaders Forum and the re-launched Cafe Queero Drop-In. After all the work grassroots and community groups have done over the pandemic, we don’t want to lose momentum, and we hope that the new community centre will facilitate this.

What role did The Outside Project have in helping people experiencing homelessness to receive vaccinations?

We went through a really scary time trying to make the case for our guests and staff to be vaccinated. Homelessness services were not included as a high-risk profession and people experiencing homelessness were not judged as vulnerable enough to be prioritised for the vaccine (despite the really high comorbidity of conditions that make your outcomes from and chances of catching COVID-19 much worse and being homeless). 

The North Central London vaccination effort, and especially the Camden community services, were really proactive in reaching out to groups working directly with rough sleepers to ensure we were included. Thankfully, those experiencing homelessness were given priority. 

We worked with the Find & Treat team at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust and they were able to offer a vaccination clinic on site in our shelter and a Q&A with guests to ensure there were as few barriers as possible for our guests taking up the vaccine. 

We can’t say for certain what would have happened if we hadn’t been supported by the NHS on this, but there were many vulnerable guests who would not have otherwise had the vaccine so quickly at a time when they are in crisis, surrounded by misinformation about the vaccine and at the worst time in their lives to be making positive choices about their health.

Is there an organisation or group you would like to see recognised for their support for people in Camden during the pandemic?

We’d like to recognise all the staff at Castlehaven Community Association, particularly Tricia, who have worked throughout the pandemic supporting local residents. They also opened their doors and community park to us on Christmas Day for our Christmas dinner takeaway service and for our Outsider Pride picnic event. They provide a best practice example for how mainstream community centres can support the entirety of their community, including LGBTIQ+ people.

How can people get support from The Outside Project or get involved?

If you’re LGBTIQ+ and need support with housing, please reach out to Stonewall Housing (all ages) or AKT (if you’re under 25) and they will be able to help and refer into The Outside Project if appropriate. Similarly, if you’re experiencing domestic abuse or violence or think you might be, contact Galop as soon as possible. 

If you would like to get involved with The Outside Project, please follow on social media (Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) to keep up-to-date, send their guests something from their Give Today Shop or set up a fundraiser via Golden Giving.

If you run any LGBTIQ+ grassroots or community group, you can join the Queer Leaders Forum.

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