THE BLOG

Homeless and Alone: Teenagers Are Being Let Down

20/03/2015 17:21 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 10:59 BST

Let's face it, being a teenager isn't easy. Young people these days are navigating a minefield of pressures - bullying, exams and poor self-image. And today, new research by The Children's Society has revealed yet another insurmountable challenge faced by thousands of older teenagers - finding a safe place to live.

Our shocking findings show that an estimated 12,000 16- and 17-year-olds - enough to fill Wembley arena - have asked their council for help in finding a new home for them. But more than half are turned away without even being assessed.

We're talking here about teenagers who might be fleeing from abuse or violence at home, not even being asked the questions about why they need help. They are being dismissed out of hand. Left to fend for themselves. Forced to live from place to place and at risk of being sexually exploited. This is not only morally wrong but councils are failing in their legal obligation to these teenagers.

Through our projects with runaways, we know only too well the dangers young people face if they aren't provided with a safe home. Like Sophie, who ran away aged 12 because her dad was violent, only to end up staying with a group of older friends she met on the street. The trouble was, they expected Sophie to 'pay' for her stay through sex. She was exploited in this way for two years until she was put in touch with a project worker at The Children's Society who helped her turn her life around.

Worryingly, when councils are finding homes for these young vulnerable people, they aren't always safe. One in 12 older teenagers are put in B&Bs even though councils have been told they should only be used in an emergency because they are targeted by predatory adults. And teenagers who are put in 'supported accommodation' aren't always protected either because these places aren't inspected or regulated.

Sophie told us that the council offered her a place in a hostel but she knew through friends who lived there that it was unsafe. Groups of residents had competitions to see how deeply they could cut themselves with broken glass. Drug dealers prowled the corridors. Another teenager, Rachel, told us that she was put in a hostel where at night, men were able to walk into her room. She woke up one night to find one trying to urinate on her. No one should have to put up with this, let alone a vulnerable teenager. How can anyone argue that these are safe environments for a young person? It's appalling.

Enough is enough. Councils need to take responsibility and make sure they assess all teenagers who seek help for homelessness. Older teenagers aged 16 and 17 should be offered flexible support and the same protection as care leavers, such as access to an advocate and financial help. And the Government needs to make sure that all B&B accommodation is completely banned and hostels are regulated. There should be no ifs and no buts. Teenagers are vulnerable and should be protected in the same way as younger children including having a roof over their head. Being a teenager isn't easy, but finding a safe place to live shouldn't be this tough.