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The country’s first LGBTQI homeless shelter opens in Islington

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tours former Clerkenwell Fire Station shelter

13 May, 2019 — By Emily Finch

LESBIAN, gay and transgender activists have launched a new homelessness shelter in the former Clerkenwell fire station, which has lain empty for five years.

Firefighters were in tears back in 2014 when the oldest fire station in the country in Rosebery Avenue was closed by the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The cost of maintaining the empty site has reached half a million pounds.

But LGBTQI+ activist group The Outside Project has now taken over the building for a year after being granted £50,000 from the current Mayor Sadiq Khan and receiving the backing of the Town Hall.

Carla Ecola, founder of The Outside Project, met the Mayor and Islington South MP Emily Thorn- berry for a tour of the six- storey building.

She said that a lot of LGBT people feel “vulnerable” in mainstream shelters and added: “There’s a lot of hate crime and being on the street is a huge risk.

“They go into spaces which are probably more dangerous where they can’t be found by mainstream outreach teams. They’ll hide in the parks or in squats. They’ll stay with people they might not even like or might have just met. They would be ‘survival rough sleeping’,” she said.

A recent report from LGBT rights charity Stonewall estimated that one in four transgender people have faced homelessness in their lives.

The upper floors of the shelter feature bedrooms, a film room and a kitchen space with a lot of equipment donated from the recently closed Glass House shelter in Hornsey Road, which was run by campaign group Streets Kitchen.

The lower floors of the building will house campaign groups and an arts space for community groups to meet.

Ms Ecola said it was “really important” for the queer community to have sober spaces to socialise away from underground venues where individuals may be pressured to take drugs or drink alcohol. She said: “The community centre will be for people to form friendships that aren’t in those spaces.”

Artist Fredrik Andersson said he “tells stories about my queer community” through his work. He said: “We want to start a youth collective once a week for queer youth to do work. I do a lot of worth with youth and there are certain things queer people want to express in a safe space. It’s something I didn’t have when I was experimenting.”

He praised The Outside Project’s founder and said: “You don’t often meet people who seek out the goals that they set for themselves.”

Shelter support worker Harry Gay said he was drawn to volunteering after meeting Ms Ecola at a LGBT Pride event in south London.

Harry Gay: “This is a great space and will help so many”

“She always said it was going to happen. There were times I thought ‘will it?’ But I had faith in Carla. This is a great space and will help so many.”

Speaking to the Tribune after his tour of the shelter, Mr Khan said it was “one of my frustrations” that the 10 fire stations closed by his predecessor had been empty for so long. He said: “I’ve been determined to make sure they have been brought back into use. I want it [Clerkenwell fire station] to be sold off for genuinely affordable homes or brought back into use.

“The fire service is currently in negotiation with the council. The council aren’t scared in the mean time for the space to be used with a purpose. We need to makes sure that other buildings in London which are sitting empty for six months are brought into use temporarily.”

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