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Young and homeless – a growing problem and how to help

22 September 2015

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.

homeless boy holding a cardboard house, dirty hand

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 hashtag #homelessness, click on the Follow Blog button on the right to receive our blog posts or email

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

More on young people and homelessness

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 September 2015 4:18 pm

    What a fantastic investment for a fantastic cause! Early intervention and caring support make all the difference! Really good to see 🙂

  2. Harry Pedler permalink
    28 September 2015 12:10 pm

    I have just been asked: In an ideal world which had unlimited resources available how would i tackle homelessness?- and here is a part of what i think…..
    In the first instance I think that we need to consider how deprivation often follows successive generations as wealth passes through the bourgeoisie in a similar manner (although it is clearly not similar!) This would lead me to question how families function and whether we can educate the young to effect change. Clearly this will be difficult but should we be able to achieve some success through the education of scholars then we would be beginning at the earliest point.
    The creation of opportunities for all and all abilities is significant in my opinion and perhaps the significance of the loss of manufacturing and the coal mines, as two examples should not be under estimated. Creating employment opportunities enables aspirations to develop; and as individuals prosper so do communities. We often talk today about sustainability when we refer to housing developments, creating communities and achieving ‘buy in’ from those housed in a specific area will help communities form, bond and grow.
    Social issues such as drugs and alcohol have an impact on society and contribute to family breakdown, homelessness and tenancies failing. In extreme instances these two issues are also joined with crime and it is the criminal justice system that should also ask questions of itself, such as does the criminal justice system work? Is punishment or rehabilitation most effective? Is prison a real deterrent?
    Many customers who I have seen as homeless require someone to provide empathy, assistance, understanding and belief. I believe that there is a real need for mentors and support within the community for many of the vulnerable and homeless. Society is fast today, with many of us in a rush to get from one place to another and from one task to the next. The extended family, community, friends and social groups all offer support in different ways but they are not necessarily available to all. These are support networks that we should promote and encourage as a society.

  3. 29 September 2015 5:14 pm

    The ability to access advice and information (on a range of topics) is paramount in preventing homelessness, and in supporting people who experience homelessness. Access to benefits and income maximisation is also a vital tool that is needed to help prevent homelessness and in supporting people who experience homelessness.

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