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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

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