Criminal Justice Professor Kate Moss of the University of Wolverhampton
Held on Wednesday, December 10 at the European Parliament in Brussels, a conference hosted by the Children Rough Sleepers project consortium comprising organizations from nine member states was attended by Italian MEPs Cécile Kyenge and Caterina Chinnici. At the event, a report detailing the most updated research on the developing phenomenon of children rough sleepers in Europe was presented by lead researcher and Criminal Justice Professor Kate Moss of the University of Wolverhampton. I took the occasion to ask her about some of the key aspects of the project.
Professor Moss, how have you and your team conducted your research over these past two years and upon which categories of young people have you been concentrating ?
The project, which was financed by the EU's Daphne Programme and began in 2012, has spanned two years, covering Slovenia, Portugal, Romania, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland - countries which, collectively speaking, comprised 37% of the European area at project launch. Our research focussed upon the rising numbers of children rough sleepers, or CRS, in these nine member states, identifying figures from annual police reports on runaway minors as well as estimates issued by organizations which work with young sofa surfers, unaccompanied minors and stateless children, including those which shelter homeless youth or work in child protection. Our objectives were to study the scale of the phenomenon of children rough sleepers Europewide, analyse what works in the services and related prevention strategies which address the many problems associated with their varied circumstances and examine the possibilities for winning policies tailored towards prevention. These are all solutions which are long overdue when we learn, for instance, that already in Rochdale in Manchester children have been trafficked, abused and exploited, which is why we hope this research may represent the springboard from which a meaningful project legacy can result by way of contributing to effective prevention strategies and by providing leverage in influencing policy makers.
Speaking of advocacy and of trying to influence policy makers, how successful have your efforts been to date ?
Well, this Brussels conference has been one of a number of events at which we have invited decision makers to reflect upon innovative policy recommendations which can tackle rough sleeping among children. Then as you say we are also encouraging debate on related prevention measures in all our member states. We do realize, however, that to be effective we need also to mobilise the appropriate political will and frankly that can be a tricky matter. Judging from our situation in the UK, for instance, when we witness the effects of austerity measures first hand, we begin to wonder exactly what David Cameron means, in practical terms, when he talks about a 'big society'. Clarification on this point becomes especially imperative when we consider that our recent 30% welfare budget cuts are likely to extend still further to reach 50% from May next year. The hope had been that as this lack of financial resources trickles down to local councils nationwide then it would provoke Westminster to interrogate itself as to ways in which such issues as rough sleeping among minors can be concretely addressed. So my own take on the 'big society' model and its apparent appeal to our sense of social solidarity is that it is all well and good, only it signals a very real risk of becoming just another excuse by which we wash our hands of an already deteriorating situation of youth homelessness in our urban centres.
You mention welfare budget cuts and the effects of austerity measures upon homeless people. Can you give some examples ?
Suffice it to say that of the circa 300 organizations in the UK which provide shelter to homeless people with which we have collaborated over the past two years, 40% have already shut down - that's since we commenced our research in 2012. Our own estimates are that over the next two years a further 50% of this already reduced number will have to close their doors to people needing a bed for the night. Added to this we anticipate that 1 in 5 staff members of local authorities are likely to be made redundant after next year's May election so you begin to realize that we are looking here at significantly depleted resources on all fronts. Perhaps all of this explains how a town like Torbay in Torquay has just one homeless shelter with only 24 beds under threat and why a place like Narrowgate Night Shelter in Manchester, which has 38 beds, has remained open only thanks to the generous contribution of an anonymous donor.
Finally, can you identify any best practices which have worked so far in contributing towards prevention?
Certainly I can and I'm glad that we can end on a positive note - because the solutions are definitely there when you start looking out for them. Numerous effective initiatives including social parenting programmes in the Netherlands come immediately to mind and we have also been very encouraged by successful initiatives involving the engagement of young people in learning life skills in the UK, such as those provided by St Basil's STaMP initiative and Tamworth Borough Council's Housing Education programme which has been recommended by Shelter UK. All of these have contributed enormously in terms of knowledge transfer. Not surprisingly, we are also seeing that the presence of responsible adults who are available to these young people and who represent reliable role models often give that added value upon which fresh ideas in prevention can then be built.