Youth homelessness reduction strategy

Liz Zacharias, Senior Consultant at Campbell Tickell, discusses whether there is a need to have a youth-focused homelessness strategy.

The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) data for Greater London for the first two quarters of this financial year (to 30 September 2019) shows the number of new rough sleepers recorded during this period was 50% higher than the same period last year.

CHAIN data also shows 2,069 people in London sleeping rough for the first time between July and September 2019. And there were 438 people recorded who were deemed to be living on the streets of London – 7% higher than the same period last year. So, despite the launch of the government’s rough sleeping strategy in 2018, the problem of rough sleeping does not appear to be improving significantly.

Youth homelessness

One figure that is particularly disturbing is that 6% of those seen by outreach services are 18-25 years old – that is 248 young people who are recorded as rough sleeping in Greater London. Research shows that, if left unsupported, those who experience homelessness at a young age are at greater risk of becoming homeless and developing complex problems in later life. To address this, is there a need for a specifically youth-focused homelessness and rough sleeping strategy?

While we may be doing lots of good work (for example with the development of PIE, Housing First, embedding of clinical psychology into hostel services, etc) to address complex needs brought about by early years trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACE) among adult rough sleepers, I think we also need to focus on stopping the longer term impact of ACE on the new generation of young adults.

If we were to look at developing such a strategy we would need to address both the blockers and enablers of youth homelessness. Reasons leading to youth homelessness are diverse, but often the trigger is a consequence of  unresolved common problems such  as relationship, financial, housing and educational issues.

Structural barriers

There are also structural barriers in the housing market, whether private sector or social housing. For example, the critical shortage of all forms of housing, high private sector rents, and affordability checks in social housing that disproportionately affect young people, who naturally have lower income levels. If they are on benefits, there is the pernicious social welfare system that disadvantages young people until the age of 35.

There are also ‘no second chance’-type policies adopted by some social landlords, which prevent young people who have had rent arrears or have committed anti-social behaviour from obtaining a social housing tenancy.

To disrupt this cycle perhaps we need some of the following:

  • clear duties on councils and housing associations to prioritise young people for access to housing;
  • a programme of tenancy training – maybe even embedded into the school curriculum – alongside training on money management, and information on their housing rights and welfare benefit rights;
  • a commitment to provide even a short period of intensive support for all new tenants under 25;
  • a commitment from housing providers to identify, promote and develop specific models of housing supply that can support young people to establish a stable foundation in early adulthood –no matter if they’ve had a shaky start.

Some organisations may already be working on these types of initiatives and I am sure there are many examples.

What is missing, however, is a coordinated strategic and policy-level focus on addressing the issues that create youth homelessness and promoting the initiatives that can address it. The time to do so is now.

To discuss this article, contact Liz Zacharias : liz.zacharias@campbelltickell.com

This article is also featured in CT Brief, Issue 46 – Health, Care & Support edition

Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

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