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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.

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