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The importance of supporting young homeless people

29 October 2015

The final expert post on the young and the homeless comes from Crisis and is on family breakdown and the importance of supporting young homeless people.

To anyone who has worked with young homeless people, the story will sound all too familiar – 19  years old, unable to find work and forced to leave the overcrowded family home, by the time he asked the local council for help James had run out of sofa surfing options and was left facing a night on the streets

What sets this case apart from thousands of others like it is that ‘James’ was not a real person.

Last year Crisis worked with eight undercover researchers with personal experience of homelessness to ‘mystery shop’ the service provided by local councils to homeless people.

Crisis slogan - the earlier a person becomes homeless the more likely they are to face repeat homelessnessThe Turned Away researchers adopted characters that represented typical experiences of homelessness—based on academic evidence and their own life stories. One of those characters, played variously by a man and a woman, was a 19 year old.

Because strained relationships with parents play a part in so many young people’s experiences of homelessness, mediation can be a powerful tool – either as a long term solution or temporarily until somewhere else can be found. In the better local authorities visited by Turned Away, it was used to help that 19 year old who was ostensibly facing a first night on the streets

Yet that was the exception rather than the rule.  In the words of the researcher playing ‘James’:

“When I asked where I would sleep tonight she explained that under the legislation they had no duty to help me as a single young person”

But who are these young people the system too often fails to help?

In the last four years the number of young people sleeping rough in London has more than doubled – http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/chain-reports/resource/dd12fe65-0a44-465d-96e6-5339fc5c505d and figures in the Crisis Homelessness Monitor show a staggering 8 per cent of 16-24 year olds report recently being homeless – http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/admin_uploads/research/HomelessnessMonitorEngland2013_ExecSummary.pdf

Whilst many of slogan - intervening early makes sense, saving between £3,000 and £18,000 per person helpedthe barriers experienced also relate to single homeless people more generally, there are specific challenges faced by young people; 44% of all first episodes of homelessness are from the family home. They are people like Jean, who told the mystery shopping researchers:

‘When I was 16 I couldn’t live with my parents anymore. I left because of a family breakdown. My dad drank and there were arguments constantly.’
As well as the immediate damage inflicted by youth homelessness, research for Crisis based on interviews with 500 homeless people across Britain – http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/NationsApart.pdf#_ga=1.19116410.379370992.1413792944 found that the earlier a person becomes homeless the more likely they are to face repeat homelessness. That’s a troubling statistic when almost half of those interviewed had first become homeless before the age of 20 and the median age for a first episode of homelessness was just 22. And it shows why intervening early makes sense, saving between £3,000 and £18,000 per person helped – http://community.crisis.org.uk/file/no-one-turned-away/CostsofHomelessness_Finalweb.pdf

At its best, support for young homeless people can provide solutions either for a young person to remain in their family home and for those who can’t it can help find appropriate solutions to ensure they do not end up homeless—but for that to happen we need to make that there is funding available for high quality support and housing costs.

For more on youth homelessness take a look at the Big Lottery Fund blog

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