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A WY-FI response to youth homelessness and substance misuse

14 October 2015

This week we are focusing on the second largest cause of youth homelessness, substance misuse. We asked West Yorkshire Finding Independence (WY-FI), one of our Fulfilling Lives: Multiple and Complex Needs grant holders to tell us about their experiences.

When asking WY-FI Navigators if there is a link between substance abuse and homelessness, the answer wasn’t a straightforward yes. Richard LaTouche, Lead Navigator for Bradford, said ‘for us to be working with any young person, substance use is almost always present, but not normally the reason why they would become homeless. Most young people we support became homeless due to a breakdown in the family.’ This reasoning was frequent across the project, with Nancy Moyo, Operations Manager in Calderdale, also stating that if a young person’s relationSign post with words related to comabating complex needsship with family becomes strained, it can come to a point where they are rejected from the family home. A young person’s substance misuse could be the issue that causes the family dynamic to crack or the reason behind the arguments, but it isn’t usually the sole reason for homelessness.

When supporting young people, a Navigator would help them find appropriate accommodation and make sure they are settled. It’s important they’re given the correct pathway to accommodation, as well as ensuring they have access to housing advice. In terms of substance misuse, WY-FI would support them to engage with services to provide appropriate interventions as necessary.

As a front line worker, it can be very difficult to support young people in this situation as many of them find it difficult to engage with services, because they have been previously let down so many times by professionals.

It can also be really difficult supporting young people to find suitable accommodation when they present in a crisis, due to a lack of resources available. For example, many hostels have closed down and ones that are available are sometimes oversubscribed. Some accommodation just is not appropriate for young people. In many hostels there are people misusing substances, which can create enormous peer pressure, especially for those who are already vulnerable. In addition, accommodation for young people with substance or alcohol misuse issues may place them with older beneficiaries, often of mixed genders. A lack of specialist, age and gender specific accommodation is a real issue.

‘In our experience, young people facing homelessness have complex needs. They can face issues such as family breakdown, parental substance use, social service involvement or misusing alcohol and drugs.

Our advice for other organisations would be to have a person-centred focus, putting the people at the forefront of what you do and avoiding a top-down approach. WY-FI’s practice is to ask beneficiaries what they feel they need or what they want help with, rather than presuming what is needed.

There is a need for intensive family support to assist with breakdowns in relationships as this, in our experience, appears to be the main cause of homelessness. Also, offering advice to students in school or college about their housing options could make them aware of the realities of leaving home.

More appropriate accommodation for young people is really needed, along with support and advice to assist with the transition into housing. In certain areas, specific housing dedicated to young people does already exist, but it is not available everywhere, and is in extremely high demand, so often a place is not available at the time it’s needed.

There are links between substance misuse and homelessness, but it isn’t the only, or main reason, young people are taking to the streets. WY-FI’s experience suggests that relationship breakdowns with family or guardians and a lack of education around housing options, appear to be the predominate causes of homelessness in young people.

You can find out more about WY-FI on our website, or twitter @WYFIproject

Read more about the causes of young homelessness

Youth homelessness: how a moment of stability in a crisis can change everything

10 October 2015

For World Homeless Day 2015, we spoke to Matt Dowse from Caring in Bristol, which last year received funding from us for their Bristol Nightstop programme. Matt tells us more about how the programme is helping young homeless people.

“Making the transition from childhood to adulthood can be daunting enough, even with the support from family and friends. But without those critical networks to help overcome obstacles, young people can run into real difficulties.

Some young people reach this transitional point in their lives and then, for a multitude of reasons, experience a failure of all the support systems and structures around them, falling rapidly from ‘normality’ to chaos, instability and ultimately homelessness.

Blurred image of crowd of people walkingI know from the work of Bristol Nightstop that each individual’s situation is unique filled with multiple problems that are frequently difficult to unpick and resolve.

Young people who experience the harshness and disruption of homelessness are often left to deal with it themselves. These young people are not usually joining the ever increasing numbers of anonymous people sleeping in the city centre doorway at 4am – not initially anyway.

More often they are the teenager who stays at a friends’ house, sleeps on a spare sofa, lives from one day to the next, managing somehow without support or the advice of an appropriate and knowledgeable adult.

Seizing the moment

Without a home, or their own space, lacking the anchor of routine and missing college or work, they can slip into a cycle of homelessness, hostels and insecure temporary beds. These are the young people who do not at first have a specific and identified ‘priority need’ and fall through the gaps of statutory support.

Of course, a few nights on the streets may cause problems that would then mean that they would meet a threshold and would then receive support from the local authority. Intervention then is more expensive and delivered at a point of greater crisis than it needs to be.

For many young people in this situation it is a time of acute stress, confusion, loneliness and insecurity. Often, what is needed is an unconditional helping hand and a moment of stability. This support needs to happen before what has historically been considered early intervention, before the problem of homelessness has any grip on a young life.

Our Big Lottery Funded Bristol Nightstop project provides this stability to young people who are at risk of sleeping rough or staying in unsafe places. Our key workers provide companionship, advice and understanding. They also provide guidance about the housing sector which helps young people to navigate the sometimes complex bureaucracies of support services that are there ultimately to support them.

They make sure that a young person is seen by the team within a few hours and on the day that they ask for help. Where we can, after assessment, we provide emergency accommodation in the home of one of our volunteer Bristol Nightstop Hosts on the very same night.

Unconditional support

These hosts are amazing individuals who offer unconditional support to strangers who need help. They

Clifton Briidge

Clifton Bridge in Bristol

provide an evening meal, a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning, opening their home to young people who just need a helping hand at the right time.

The single act of hosting makes a huge difference to the lives of young people that we help, often providing the first foothold on the climb to independence.

Earliest possible intervention and rapid first-night access to accommodation can be critical factors in preventing a downward spiral into rough sleeping, as is greater access to unconditional emotional support.

I would like to see more projects in the UK capable of responding rapidly and flexibly to preventing problems from becoming critical. In the end, this will save communities and government money and help to create positive lives.

Nightstop projects work under the accreditation of DePaul UK.

Click to read more about youth homelessness

To find out how to apply for funding from Big Lottery Fund visit our Funding Finder.

Doing a world of good on #SocialSaturday2015

8 October 2015

Social enterprise is a growing sector, with an estimated 180,000 such ventures in the UK, and employs about two million people. But what is it exactly? And why are we talking about it now?

Sam Tarff is chief executive of Key Fund, which invests in enterprises in the north of England that aim to deliver social impact to local neighbourhoods rather than maximise profits for investors. In a guest article for the Big Lottery Fund, he explains what social enterprise is, why it matters and why we should all #buysocial

“It’s Social Saturday on 10 October. Nope, it’s not about being sociable down your local – it’s a celebration of buying social.

But what does that mean?

Sam standing on a bridge

Sam Tarff

At the Key Fund, we have done research that shows confusion persists about what social enterprise is.  Although two thirds of us support the idea, only a fifth (21 per cent) knew what social enterprises were.

Simply, it’s about buying or using services from businesses that make a positive difference in our community or on the environment. Social enterprises reinvest their profits into furthering their social mission. They have to have good business models to be financially sustainable, so they don’t rely on grants or charity.

Key Fund is itself a social enterprise. We began in 1999, three years after the movie The Full Monty told the story of six unemployed steelworkers who were forced to form a male striptease act to make some money.

We worked to help revitalise northern communities decimated by the collapse of the coal and steel industries by launching a pioneering grant and loan fund, one of the first in the country, to support the development of social enterprises.

15 years on, we invest in more social enterprises than anyone else in the UK and unlike many social investors we only invest in people who have been turned down by mainstream finance, about 80 per cent of whom operate in areas of multiple disadvantage.

The cost of doing nothing

The UK may be the sixth wealthiest country in the developed world but it’s the only country in the G7 to have seen inequality grow in over a century.

Social enterprise works in the space of that inequality, where there’s a cost to doing nothing, a cost to the tax payer, the state and society itself.

There was a recent story about a Pharmaceuticals CEO who raised an HIV drug price by 5,000 per cent. Wouldn’t you rather buy from a social enterprise model that’s not for profit?

Take Nine Health.

Based at the University of Sheffield, Nine Health helps to deliver innovative technology-based products within health and social care. The Key Fund invested £30,000 for the firm to start a project using “supercomputers” to model disease treatments to save lives and eliminate suffering.

Or look at the Works Skatepark.

As well as skateboarding, it launched an education centre for young people disenfranchised from mainstream education.

Typically, like many social enterprises, it is led by an entrepreneur with a big heart, Elliott Turnbull. Wouldn’t you rather “buy” from Elliott?

Investing in communities

We invest across all sectors, from housing to health; the arts to community-run pubs.

Every £1 we invest creates an £8 wider return to that local community.

It all benefits society and saves the public purse. In terms of new business formation, social enterprise is where the action is. They are innovative, heartfelt and making our communities happier places.

Social Saturday is part of a turning tide. People want to shop locally, ethically and socially. And more people than ever want meaningful work, with strong values.

Perhaps you are one of them?

Key Fund and their partners received more than £1 million from the Social Incubator Fund  (funded by Cabinet Office, delivered by the Big Lottery Fund).

The Big Lottery Fund supports social enterprise and social investment through a number of initiatives. In addition to the Social Incubator Fund (above), we also support Big Potential, the School for Social Enterpreneurs and Commissioning Better Outcomes. Please visit here for more information about what we have funded.

For more information about Social Saturday and events taking place near you visit




The young and the homeless

8 October 2015

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.

Young man smiling, sitting down at desk


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.

Nature in Mind

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.

St Mungo’s Broadway 

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.

Meanderings of a male advocacy volunteer

8 October 2015

In the second of two blogs from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, we hear from Bob Smith, a volunteer cancer advocate.

Bob Smith

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.

Why the right housing support is important

7 October 2015

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.

Scrabble letters spelling out employment linked wordsWhen 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.

Encouraging more men to volunteer

6 October 2015

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.

Tackling homelessness the Centrepoint way

2 October 2015

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.

Support worker standing over young person

More than just a helping hand

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.

Young man smiling, sitting down at desk

Getting young lives back on track

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


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