THE BLOG

Stop Youth Homelessness Before It Starts

19/11/2014 11:11 GMT | Updated 17/01/2015 10:59 GMT

New research reveals over half of those seeking help with homelessness are now aged under-25 but does it have to be this way?

Hannah's story is all too familiar to those who work in homeless services. She was just ten years old when her dad died. This tragic event was followed over time by anger management issues, a strained relationship with her mum and trouble at school.

Eventually, things in Hannah's overcrowded home reached boiling point. She dropped out of education, her relationship with her mum deteriorated and they agreed she should move out. But where would she go?

Young and Homeless published today indicates that the most common reason why young people find themselves homeless is because their relationship with their parents has broken down.

However, the problems faced by young people can go way beyond just needing a roof.

Our survey of over 200 services indicates that six in ten homeless under 25s are not in education, training or employment. Many have not yet developed the skills to live independently, while issues with substance misuse or mental ill-health affect over a quarter.

Even more worryingly, half of the homeless services we surveyed think that the problems faced by young people are getting worse.

Hannah's council was able to help and connected her with a local charity. They provided a roof over her head and the support she needed to start to rebuild her emotional health, relations with her family and get a job.

Not every young person can get such help straight away. While our survey only provides a snapshot, it does indicate that nearly a fifth of young people have slept rough at some point.

An even greater number spent time sofa surfing or living in poor accommodation like squats. Experiencing homelessness can be dangerous, bad for your health and make any existing problems you face worse.

So what can be done? Across the country, there are many excellent support services in place for individuals who end up homeless. In fact we estimate that half of those now living in homeless accommodation services are young people like Hannah.

On average they will spend 34 weeks in such services, a cost which is largely born by the tax-payer. Many then return to the family home.

This situation exists because society is simply not good enough at stopping young people from losing their homes in the first place. According to the councils we surveyed, youth homelessness is only currently prevented in one in five cases.

While it is not always possible for young people to stay in the family home, if they are at risk of abuse for example, a better success rate must be possible.

We believe that schools and other agencies working with young people could play a key part in the prevention of homelessness. Education about the realities of being homeless, as well as early identification of young people most at risk could make a significant difference.

For example how is it that ten per cent of young people who end up homeless have spent time in the care of local authority children's services? Could agencies have prevented them from slipping through the net?

Homeless Link and the charities we represent also firmly believe that mediation, advice and support services should also be available in every area to families and young people at risk of homelessness.

While many councils are trying to beef up their prevention work, 40% of councils we asked felt they still didn't have sufficient prevention tools at their disposal - a statistic which shows the progress we need to make.

If Hannah had not got help and had ended up sleeping rough or sofa surfing, evidence suggest she would have been at greater risk in later life of developing even more complex problems and experiencing homelessness again.

But Hannah did get support, which hopefully will ensure that she has access to all the opportunities that most of us take for granted. Many do not and that's why I so strongly believe that prevention is the best investment we can make.