An Interview with Carrie Reiners: Deputy CEO of akt
As part of our Support Pride This September initiative, we have had the privilege of working alongside Carrie Reiners, Deputy CEO of akt. akt is the national LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity, and Carrie plays a huge role in ensuring that young LGBTQ+ people in the UK are supported when they are facing homelessness or a hostile living environment.
At BoroughBox, we have created two limited-edition Pride hampers, with 100% of the proceeds being donated to akt. So, we wanted to chat with Carrie, to get to know more about her and her work at akt, as well as how people can best support this amazing charity.
Tell us about the work that akt do to support LGBTQ+ young people?
At akt, we work with young people who are aged 16-25 and LGBTQ+. Nearly 77% of the young people who access our service cite parental rejection and abuse for being who they are as why they contacted akt.
Nearly ¼ of young people facing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+, so a service entirely devoted to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community is needed as much now as it was when we were founded in 1989. We help young people access safe accommodation and provide support to build resilience and skills to ensure that they can lead successful and independent lives. We have service centres in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol and provide a digital service of direct support online across the UK.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working at akt?
I have the privilege to be able to bring the stories and circumstances of a very vulnerable but resilient portion of the LGBTQ+ community to people who are interested, and able to make a difference so that no young person has to choose between a safe home and being who they are.
What unique challenges were presented by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, and how did akt navigate these challenges?
Since the start of the pandemic, akt has seen a 71% increase in the demand for our services from LGBTQ+ young people facing high levels of abuse, hostility and rejection at home and from their communities, simply for being who they are. At the height of the pandemic, this figure rose to 118%. The level of complexity and trauma in these cases was also profound. This jump in demand came from across the UK and included areas of the country which typically have not been in touch such as Wales and many isolated rural areas. akt was able to expand our front-line services to work with more young people, and we also created a new digital team of caseworkers to cover our growing national footprint in areas where we do not have a physical presence. We are currently seeing another spike in our numbers and we continue to look at ways to innovate while still providing our core services.
What would your advice be to a young LGBTQ+ young person who is facing the possibility of homelessness?
I have heard it many times from our caseworkers – make a plan. If a young person fears rejection by coming out, they should make a plan. Our team often work with young people to build a plan to keep themselves safe if things go wrong. Sadly, many young people are outed or don’t anticipate a negative reaction. That is why we are a self-referral service. Young people can contact us via our website, on live chat or by phone. Our team will always ensure a young person is safe if they have nowhere to go.
You must meet so many amazing people through your work with akt, has anyone’s story really left a mark on you?
It is really difficult to choose just one. But Faz is a standout for many reasons. He grew up in London as part of a South Asian family. He was living with extended family who did not respect his gender transition. He feared being sent to his family’s home country and came to akt for help. We were able to provide him a room in our emergency safe house, Purple Door, while he completed his studies. He began a career in housing with a local authority and even referred young people to akt. Following a period as an akt ambassador, Faz became a member of our board of trustees. This ensures that we have lived experience of LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness at the highest level of our decision making for the organisation. We are really proud of his many accomplishments and those of all of our young people.
You can also learn more about our work and the issues that young people are facing through our recent report on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness. Please also follow us on social media and share our work with your own networks. We look forward to welcoming volunteers back to akt when it is safe to do so.
We would like to say a huge "thank you" to Carrie for speaking with us, and to akt for working with us on this exciting fundraiser. To get involved, check out our Pride Hampers.