Over the last month we have been taking a look at the causes of homelessness among young people and are highlighting the work of some of the projects we fund that offer a lifeline to vulnerable young people.
We have been focusing on different causes of young homelessness, from health problems to the most common cause: family breakdown.
Last month we asked you to get in touch and let us know how you are helping young homeless people to build a brighter future. Below are some great examples of that great work.
Helping homeless young people in London and the north east with housing, education, access to mental and physical health services and life skills
Big Lottery Fund grant: £480,000 over five years
“With a grant from the Big Lottery Fund, we launched a youth-led Parliament to speak out for the homeless and it is now in its sixth year.
“Our Centrepoint Parliament is made up of a group of democratically elected young people who have all experienced homelessness. The group is inducted into their new roles and trained in key skills. They are empowered to represent their peers and deliver positive change for young people experiencing homelessness.”
Read Centrepoint’s head of public affairs Paul Noblet’s guest article which focuses on the link between poor health and homelessness and the importance of promoting physical and mental well-being as crucial to living an independent life.
A Nottingham-based project run by Framework provides ecotherapy-type services involving anything outdoors that can promote mental well being
Big Lottery Fund grant: £294,000 over three years
“A lot of people who have mental health problems – and homelessness is part of that – lack a certain amount of direction, purpose or belonging and ‘green exercises’ help people to develop something meaningful again; a sense of purpose or a sense of role. They start growing their own food, making connections with their immediate environment and that gives people a reason to wake up in the morning.
“Nature in Mind isn’t focusing on peoples’ problems, a lot of it is people choosing to come along, looking at the creativity and the enjoyment of nature; it’s very much an invitation to engage.”
Find out more about the success of their ecotherapy work to help homeless people.
Homeless charity and housing association, providing bed and support to more than 2,500 people a night
Big Lottery Fund grant: £245,660 over three years
“With money from Big Lottery Fund, St Mungo’s Broadway is currently delivering a project with young people at risk of homelessness in south London, providing training and advice to help people to avoid personal crisis and resolve the challenges they face.
“Through our work with homeless people of all ages, we know that support for young adults at critical points can have a huge effect, helping them to avoid dangerous situations, such as rough sleeping or unstable housing.”
Share your stories
If you or your organisation is involved in helping vulnerable young people at risk of homelessness, we would love to hear from you. We want to share as many stories as possible through our blog, Facebook and our Twitter feed.
If you have not got involved yet, there is still time to take part. Send us an email and let us know how you are helping young people build a more positive future.
A recent report funded by the Big Lottery Fund revealed that men over 50 have a tendency to volunteer less than women of the same age. I think there are a number of reasons for this; for example, one is the fact that more men than women over the age of 50 tend to still be working, and therefore have less time available than their female counterparts. Also, many within this age group were brought up in an era when volunteering was seen as more of a woman’s domain; thank heavens this is no longer the case!
Volunteering can be so rewarding for those who give their time freely. We all have experiences, talents, and skills that can be used for the benefit of others. None of us know when we may need the help of others and it’s great to play our part whilst we can.
I have generally tried to help others if I have the opportunity but never more so than since I contracted cancer for the first time in 2007. By 2012 I had had the illness three times, plus a stem cell transplant. I was in remission again and looking for somewhere that I could really make a difference. I heard that a new project providing one-to-one advocacy support for older people affected by cancer was looking for recruits so I applied along with my wife, Maddy, and we were both accepted.
Being a volunteer advocate enables me to use my experiences to help others struggling with their cancer journey. A diagnosis is devastating to the patient, their loved ones, and their friends. Any of these people might need help and support. Having someone who is supportive, impartial, and empathetic (not just sympathetic) can be invaluable, and this can be especially relevant to the older person.
Advocacy doesn’t just benefit the person affected by cancer; I have learnt so much about how to support people with so many different needs. Each of my advocacy partners has been different and taught me so much. They have ranged from very positive to depressed and helpless to very capable, but all in need of someone to confide in.
Being a male advocate will obviously involve supporting men and women partners. However, certain types of cancer are very personal to a man (as are some to a woman). Having male volunteers also adds a different dimension to the advocacy;. a man affected by cancer might- open up more to another man as they will have had similar life experiences and views. Some say they can treat you more as ‘an impartial brother’.
I would very much recommend that other men who have had experience of cancer volunteer as advocates. The emotional rewards are enormous and it’s a real blessing to be able to help others using the first-hand knowledge you have. I have every intention to carry on as an advocate and am finding new ways to help cancer patients in other ways as well. Cancer advocacy is the most important volunteer role I’ve had to date.
Dorset Macmillan Advocacy are parallel partners in Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (OPAAL)’s Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project which is funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s Silver Dreams programme.
Homeless Link research manager Francesca Albanese talks about why the right housing support is important for improving employment outcomes
Loss of employment is not only one of the triggers of homelessness, but once someone loses their home it is difficult for them to access suitable, accessible and sustainable work. Employment can act as a catalyst for improving wellbeing and self-esteem but a stable home is critically important for achieving this. Levels of employment among homeless people are low. Research undertaken by Homeless Link, the national membership body working for organisations working directly with people who experience homelessness in England, found that only 14% of clients reported being in paid employment and a further 34% were in education or training.
When someone has no home or is living in unstable or temporary accommodation, maintaining or looking for work and training can be very difficult. Homelessness can also create or exacerbate a broad range of other issues which act as barriers to employment. These include mental and physical ill health, substance misuse, learning difficulties, offending and being a victim of violent crime. In a recent audit of the health needs among single homeless people, 45% said they were prevented from taking part in training, volunteering or working due to ill health.
There are also issues with the type of work that people re-entering the labour market are able to access – often low paid and temporary or zero contract hours. A longitudinal study of homeless people’s experience of finding and staying in work found that the end of temporary/casual contracts was one of the biggest reasons for falling out of work. Further, the lack of affordable accommodation available to people trying to move out of homelessness often makes it difficult for them to enter low paid jobs without risking getting into debt and financial insecurity.
Despite the barriers, many people experiencing homelessness want to work and there are a number of positive ways in which people can be supported to do this. Whilst employment support provided by many homelessness agencies is a relatively recent addition to the range of support provision available, we see a number of practical ways our members help people make the transition back into employment. These include one to one career planning and coaching sessions, job brokering directly with employers, vocational and skills training, business start-up help and mentoring and confidence building.
Though there are a number of effective ways the homelessness sector is supporting their clients back into work, more needs to be done to accompany this. Building better links between employers, services and clients to develop post-employment support is one area that would help promote more sustainable work outcomes. More tailored support from mainstream employment schemes like the Work Programme should recognise that people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness may require housing support including tenancy sustainment, resettlement into secure accommodation and disclosing housing circumstances to potential employers. In addition, many people within homelessness services experience multiple and complex needs. Specialist provision for jobseekers with these needs should be commissioned and better integrated with housing agencies to best support people often called the ‘hardest to help’. Making these changes could enable more people with acute housing needs to find and sustain employment and prevent a rise in homelessness.
Our recent Foresight report revealed that men volunteer far less than women. In the first of two blogs, we hear from a spokesperson at the Dorset Macmillan Advocacy about Graham, a male advocacy volunteer who supports people living with cancer…
At Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, both our steering group and our team of volunteer advocates have good male representation, although we don’t manage to recruit as many men as we do women.
When three former service users were asked if the gender of their advocate was important to them, all three said it did not make a difference and that they simply wanted a good one. Of course, in some cases people might actively want an advocate of the same gender; for example, if they had a gender specific cancer. It is true that some of our male volunteers do seem to engage with their male advocacy partners in a particularly effective way. One partner even referred to his as being ‘like a brother’.
Graham Willetts is on the steering group and Board of Trustees. As someone living with cancer himself, Graham was keen to help people in the same situation and joined the advocacy a year after his diagnosis. Having been an active member of his Parish Council for many years, he wanted to concentrate on developing cancer advocacy in Dorset. Graham has a professional background as a social worker, working in particular with disabled and older people.
Another reason Graham wanted to get involved was that because he was retired he missed the personal contact he used to have with people and the opportunity to challenge bad practice. Although he has learned how to be assertive in relation to his own care, he feels the nature of the disease means that even confident people can struggle and that it’s really useful to have someone else at appointments to ask questions.
Like Graham, volunteer advocates are generally motivated by wanting to help someone have a better experience than they themselves might have had. There are benefits for both parties and volunteers often report feeling ‘a lift’ as a result of their role.
Looking back, Graham feels that without the support he received, and his own ability to research his condition, he would have been ‘in a mess’. Having more male volunteer advocates join our service can only be a good thing and Graham and our other male volunteers would encourage other men to join.
Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, are parallel partners in Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (OPAAL)’s Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project which is funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s Silver Dreams programme.
Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, shares with us ideas around how we could tackle homelessness amongst young people
At Centrepoint we work with 1,600 homeless young people every night across England to help them at a time of crisis and ultimately support them into a job and a home.
One of the biggest barriers to achieving these goals is poor health – both physical and mental. Homeless young people who do not receive support to deal with these health problems are much less likely to access and sustain employment and training, or successfully move into independent living. But with a number of competing concerns, such as securing accommodation or dealing with benefit claims, homeless young people often give their health a lower priority.
A quarter of homeless young people arrive at Centrepoint with a formally diagnosed mental health problem, of which depression is the most common problem. One in five report a diagnosis for anxiety.
However, even more report symptoms or problems with their mental health and emotional well-being even though they do not have a formal diagnosis. Over a quarter of young people at Centrepoint report problems including mild depression, anxiety and experiencing consistently low moods.
This poor mental health is often closely associated with substance misuse – of those with a diagnosis or symptoms of a mental health problem, almost two thirds admit to using drugs.
Legal highs, illegal drugs and alcohol are all a problem for many young people. Half of young people at Centrepoint (49%) use cannabis. One in ten young people say they drink on a daily basis, of whom over two thirds have either diagnosed or symptoms of mental health or emotional well-being problems.
As well as negatively impacting on mental well-being, homelessness can also have a serious impact on young people’s physical health. Just under a third of young people report a physical health problem, with breathing conditions the most common. One in ten young people report pains and problems with joints and muscles, and a further 10% reported frequent headaches or migraines.
These wide-ranging health problems require a holistic and tailored offer, which Centrepoint delivers through its in-house health team including trained psychotherapists, substance misuse workers and healthy living advisors. They use a range of therapeutic approaches and help young people to develop healthy living skills which allow them to better manage their health over the long-term.
A core principle of our health work is that of early intervention. Our mental health workers seek to address problems at an early stage to stop young people’s problems reaching crisis point, and the length of support is defined by the young person’s needs rather than a standard treatment length.
This approach has been shown to have a significant impact not only on their health outcomes but also their wider lives. 54% of homeless young people with a health need who had a Centrepoint health intervention gained a qualification during their stay at Centrepoint, compared to just 32% of those with a health need not directly supported by the team. Similarly, 69% achieved paid employment compared with 56% who had a health need but did not access support.
Whilst Centrepoint can make these differences in outcomes within its own services, our limited resources mean that we cannot work with every homeless young person in need of help. That is why we believe there are a number of things which national and local government should focus on over the next few years, starting with better access to mental health services.
Whilst greater investment in mental health services by successive governments has been welcome, too often young people are still falling through the gaps at the point of transition between Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and Adult Mental Health Services leading to breaks in care at a crucial time. To address this, we believe that young people aged 16-20 should be classified separately within mental health services to support effective transitions to adult services and provide a more holistic offer.
Investing in tailored services for young people in this way is likely to reap savings in the long-term, as our experience of working with homeless young people since 1969 tells us that if young people can be supported with their health problems then they can go on to achieve their ambitions and sustain independent living.
Centrepoint – what we do
More on young people and homelessness
This week the Big Lottery Fund is profiling the fourth biggest cause of youth homelessness; mental and physical health issues.
Nature in Mind is a Nottingham based project providing support to people with mental health issues. The people who run this project, Framework, work mainly with homeless individuals. Framework only received their funding for this project from the Big Lottery Fund money in April and already they have had around 100 enquiries so far, and have worked with around 70 beneficiaries.
Carl Colton is the service manager for Nature in Mind, and he caught up with our campaigns manager, Pete Scott, to tell him more about the service.
Hi Carl, can you tell me a little about Nature in Mind and what it does.
We provide an ecotherapy type service encompassing anything outdoors that can act as therapy. This could be horticulture, exercise, walking, cycling or going to green gyms. It can also be arts related; we run drumming workshops, using nature to create art or art in nature
A lot of people who have mental health problems – and homelessness is part of that – lack a certain amount of direction, purpose or belonging and ‘green exercises’ help people to develop something meaningful again; a sense of purpose or a sense of role. They start growing their own food, making connections with their immediate environment and that gives people a reason to wake up in the morning.
Nature in Mind isn’t focussing on peoples’ problems, a lot of it is people choosing to come along, looking at the creativity and the enjoyment of nature; it’s very much an invitation to engage. To engage in something that’s fresh and new, or reengaging with something that someone used to get something positive from.
Can you tell me about the links between homelessness and mental health that you see?
It’s very rare that we see someone who has mental health problems who hasn’t at one time ended up homeless. Homelessness more or less goes hand in hand with people who experience mental health problems.
From my observations from my years of work, probably between 50-75% of the people that are homeless are experiencing some sort of mental health problem. It might not be a diagnosed mental illness, but a mental health problem.
When people come to us, they have already engaged with services to address their homelessness. They will have moved into a hostel or a support flat, and will come to us to start building their futures and developing their skills.
So your project, it doesn’t provide an immediate practical support in the sense of ‘Here is a hot meal or a bed for that night’, but you try to address the underlying cause of why someone might become homeless with some kind of structure and resilience to enable them to mitigate or prevent homelessness from happening again?
That’s absolutely right yes. Generally speaking, people who are confident and have structure in their life, people that have a sense of purpose and wellbeing don’t end up homeless. People who have chaotic lifestyles, who neglect themselves, who can’t manage their money well, are more likely to end up homeless.
The indirect, but intentional consequence of this then is that they are less likely to become homeless again?
Absolutely. It’s about developing enduring change in their life from within, and that’s what will prevent homelessness in the future without needing any intervention from others. There are some people who come to Nature in Mind and think “this is exactly what I need.” Their passion for something new, for being outside, has increased. They don’t want other stuff in their life, and that’s what prevents homelessness.
They go outside, they get exercise, they get the sunlight that stimulates vitamin D and produces serotonin, which creates a sense of wellbeing. People start to eat better and they’ll have a greener diet because they are cooking their own produce.
If you were meeting a client for the first time, what would you tell them about why they should be involved with your project?
Engaging with nature over a period will probably change your life completely. It’s as simple as that. You will bring changes into your life that will stay with you forever.
All of the people in this seven minute video have at some point experienced homelessness, and have been helped by Framework. Carl described people here who have “chosen to let go of issues that increased the chance of becoming homeless, because they found something better in their life.”
See for yourself the work that Framework is carrying out: https://youtu.be/4YkahCJ8K8M
Health, be it mental or physical, might not be a direct cause of homelessness in itself, but it a sign of increased vulnerability. If through funding projects like Nature in Mind, we can increase peoples’ sense of resilience and wellbeing, and remove illness as a contributing factor, then hopefully we are going some way to reducing the risk of homelessness for this vulnerable group.
Join in our conversations on homeless below or on social media, following #homelessness.
On 10 October 2015 people around the world will mark World Homeless Day with the aim of changing the lives of homeless people in their communities.
The number of people sleeping rough has been climbing since 2010, with this time of year a peak period for young people becoming homeless.
Lack of specific data makes measuring the scale of youth homelessness challenging. Most data only looks at the ‘statutory homeless’, those who are legally accepted as being homeless by their local authority, but this only provides a limited picture of the scale of youth homelessness.
A report from Homeless Link highlights that 52% of all homeless people are under 25 and more than half of young people become homeless due to relationship breakdown, which can lead to other problems such as financial difficulties, substance misuse and mental ill health.
We have identified the highest risk groups as care leavers, young offenders, asylum seekers and refugees. Homeless young people often have a range of complex needs which, if not supported at this critical time in their lives, can prevent them from reaching their full potential. More than 6 in 10 are not in education, employment or training for example.
What is interesting to see but harder to show is the cost of homelessness and the benefits of early intervention in preventing problems from escalating – both in terms of saving lives and money. Crisis, the homelessness charity, recently published an illustration depicting the human and financial costs of failing to tackle homelessness early. It highlights two very different paths that a 20 year olds’ life could take depending on whether they received the help they needed. Help via preventative interventions costs the public purse £1,558, putting them back on track with a home and back at college. No help costs £11,733, which include sleeping rough, health problems, medical treatment, residential and detox costs.
Homelessness is a key social policy area for the Big Lottery Fund to understand. Between April 2013 and June 2015 we’ve invested around £52.2 million in projects that directly support the homeless and/or those at risk of becoming homeless. We want to learn from our funded projects and use this learning to develop future funding. We also want others to be inspired by, and learn from these projects and the individuals who have benefited.
Over the next few weeks in the lead up to World Homeless Day 2015 we’ll be exploring the main reasons which lead to young people finding themselves homeless and how organisations are working to support them. We’ll be sharing thoughts from some of the leading experts in homelessness, and several organisations that work directly with young homeless people will tell their story.
To find out more and get involved follow @BigLotteryFund and Tweet us using the hastag #homelessness, click on the Follow Blog button on the right to receive our blog posts or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Any views, ideas, suggestions are welcome in the Comments section below. We may not respond to every comment, but they will all be read and collected. We look forward to hearing from you.
Christine Cooper, policy and learning manager, Big Lottery Fund