LGBTQ+ people are hiding their sexuality out of fear in emergency homeless accommodation, a key worker with the Simon Community says.
Glen O'Callaghan, who has worked with the charity for more than three years, supports Dublin Simon's LGBTQ+ clients, letting them know that they're not alone.
"Some people lost their families when they came out to them. They've been targeted and bullied all their lives for being LGBTQ and ended up homeless," he said.
Coming into shared accommodation they feel that they have to isolate themselves again, hide who they are and it's exhausting. It puts a strain on your mental health. To be constantly looking over your shoulder, afraid people are going to find out and worried about what the consequences are going to be.
The lockdown has put extra pressure on vulnerable LGBTQ+ service users, trapped in shared rooms unable to meet friends outside and feeling forced to hide who they truly are.
"Lockdown has put more restrictions on people mentally as well as physically," Mr O'Callaghan said.
But with the right help and support, he has seen vulnerable "people come on leaps and bounds" and leave emergency accommodation for homes of their own.
"There was a client we had, an older man. He had this persona about him that he was really hard, really manly. But he came out to me, told me that he was gay, that he felt like he was playing a role: "His whole demeanour would change when he was in discussions with me. He felt I understood him. The difference in him over the next couple of months was incredible. When he left the service he was a completely different man, a lot more open and at ease with himself."
Mr O'Callaghan said that his own difficult experience of growing up gay in Ireland makes him want to help others: "I grew up in Ballyfermot, quite a deprived area, and there was this idea about what a man should be when I came out in the late 90s. I felt I had to hide myself and my sexuality. I experienced my fair share of bullying and intimidation growing up. It was a constant in my life."
"I didn't have someone stepping in and fighting for my rights, I just thought I was alone in the world. But for these people coming in, I get to be that person, to fight for them and make them feel a little bit less alone."
Mr O'Callaghan said that although Ireland does not have statistics on it, in the USA, where approximately 7% of the population identify as LGBTQ+, the figure is 40% for the homeless population.
"It's a big problem. And there's a lot of hidden homelessness, with people staying on friends couches. People can come into the service with their walls up, unable to trust people, but with the right support they learn to trust and you see them come out of their shell. I've seen people come on leaps and bounds. People who've been in care and lived in shared accommodation all their lives finally finding their own place to call home."