A group of homeless young people have responded to the Homeless Link survey of services and Local Authorities entitled “Young and Homeless” which investigated the recent rise in national levels of youth homelessness.
The young people responding to the report are all between the ages of 16 to 25 and have been homeless at some point in their lives. They are members of the National Youth Reference Group (NYRG) which is facilitated by St Basils, a youth homelessness charity working with young people in the West Midlands. The aim of NYRG is to give a cross section of homeless young people a voice on housing and social policy issues at a national level.
Based on their experiences the young people picked out several themes from the report which they felt were most important and made recommendations as to how local authorities and services working with young people can help to reduce youth homelessness and avoid repeat youth homelessness.
The young people from NYRG felt prevention services were particularly important in reducing youth homelessness. Many NYRG members have visited local schools to help raise awareness of causes and felt that talking to young people of school age was particularly important for impressing upon them the disadvantages of leaving home in an unplanned way. One young person from NYRG said: “St Basils STaMP Schools training and mentoring project opened my eyes to the fact that many 14-16 year olds say they want to leave home at 16 but when they realise the ‘homeless’ aspect to it, they are more grateful and value what they have at home”. STaMP does work…without it 14-16 year olds won’t have a clue about the help and choices that are out there if they become at risk of homelessness”.
The NYRG response also highlighted that not all forms of temporary accommodation are appropriate for young people. NYRG members felt particularly strongly about Bed and breakfast accommodation. One member said:
“To house someone, even if only temporarily in a B&B isn’t acceptable and I don’t think provides that person with a great deal of hope. There should be more support for schemes available where members of the public can sign up as providers of emergency accommodation. I think that this would greatly improve a young homeless person’s morale by the pure fact that it shows that people are willing to put themselves out to help them”.
Young people from NYRG were concerned that the Shared Accommodation rule changes may lead to young people being placed with unsuitable tenants which could lead to conflict and the risk of repeat homelessness. They also felt that some caution needs to be exercised when placing young people in the Private Rental Sector. One young NYRG member said: You need that financial stability (in the Private Sector), as many landlords don’t want the hassle; they just want simple easy payments with no background problems attached. Also there is the worry that private landlords have the ultimate power to kick you out whenever they wish; it’s only a fixed stable home providing you can keep up with the payments”.
Finally the NYRG members were very keen to stress the importance of ensuring young people have adequate support to access education, training and other opportunities to help them develop socially, improve their confidence and ensure they can find long term work and become financially independent, thus reducing the risk of returning to a crisis situation.
One young person said: “I believe these areas should be given more money to ensure young people are given opportunities to engage with their community. This will give young people a purpose and make them feel like they are being listened to. Without any help there the morale of young people will drop and it becomes a vicious circle.” Another young person added: “The replacement of the Educational Maintenance Allowance needs to be re-assessed in terms of the impact on young people especially from low-income families”.
Ultimately NYRG agreed with the statement in Homeless Link’s report that “the rise in youth homelessness does not need to be an inevitable conclusion of the current financial climate. There are ways we can prevent it”.
Commenting on the NYRG response, Helen Mathie policy manager for Homeless Link said:
“As these comments from NYRG tell us, there are some very tough challenges presented by the cuts and welfare reform which are having a real impact on homeless young people.
“The response also reminds us of the measures, such as proper advice and access to training, which can prevent homelessness before it begins and ensure those who are currently homeless can leave this behind for good. The importance of prevention is a message we must continue to make.”
Young people from the National Youth Reference Group will be leading a solution focussed national conference on May 17th 2012 called “Getting it Right for Young People” which will be looking at service provision not only in the housing sector but in health, education, welfare and employment as well. To book your place visit:
Link to Homeless Link's Full Report: http://homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/111202.Young_and_homeless.pdf
NYRG's full response can be downloaded here
Added February 2012