14/02/2017 10:26 GMT | Updated 14/02/2018 05:12 GMT

'We Are Facing A System In Denial': Hidden Homelessness In UK Is At Crisis Point

Centrepoint's research shows that for each one of those young people we see on the streets, dozens more are sleeping on the sofas of extended family and friends and, in some cases, in the beds of strangers.

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Much has been made of a crisis within the NHS over recent weeks. Every day we turn on the news and see hospitals struggling to find beds for patients in their hour of need. The Red Cross even went so far as to call out this current situation as a 'humanitarian crisis'.

This struggle for beds is not just happening in our hospital wards, though. We're also facing a complex housing and benefits crisis that is putting more and more young people at risk of homelessness.

The latest figures officially show that sleeping rough is on the rise, but you only really need to walk the streets of any UK city to notice the change.

Flimsy tents have begun to line the backstreets of parts of central London, reminiscent of devastating scenes from Calais. We're seeing more and more people sheltering from freezing temperatures in doorways across the country. It often feels like we've gone back in time.

Believe it or not, the numbers we rely on are based only on visuals counts. What we see happening for ourselves is in fact just the tip of an iceberg.

Centrepoint's research shows that for each one of those young people we see on the streets, dozens more are sleeping on the sofas of extended family and friends and, in some cases, in the beds of strangers.

Some will have fled near constant family arguments or violent partners, others will have exhausted the generosity of friends and found they have nowhere else to turn. And this state of 'hidden homelessness' can quickly spiral young people into desperate situations, as they have no idea where to turn.

In stark contrast to the realities facing the many young people sleeping rough on our streets, the world's glitterati descended on London's Albert Hall on Sunday for the British Academy Film Awards. After picking up the Outstanding British Film award for 'I, Daniel Blake' - a drama about the impact of devastating benefits cuts in this country - director Ken Loach spoke out about the "callous brutality" facing "the most vulnerable and poorest people by this government."

Mirroring the issues brought to life in this film, in April 2017 the Government will cut housing benefit for some 18 to 21-year-olds with no plans in place for those left struggling to pay their rent. It is highly doubtful that the plan will save the government any money and yet we are facing a system in denial about the impact it will have.

To be clear, these are not young people who can go home to mum and dad or who have somehow brought the calamity of homelessness on themselves. They are simply unfortunate to be drawn into an ideological vortex that will leave them with absolutely no options. Doubtless many will sleep on the streets, commit crimes or even try to get admitted to A&E to seek safety and shelter. This is a time bomb for struggling public services and a betrayal of young people society should be protecting and who have no idea where to turn.

This is exactly why we are launching our new Centrepoint Helpline - the first ever advice service for young people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Our research shows that more than 150,000 young people a year across the UK approach their local councils for help with housing, with a third turned away without meaningful support. Incredibly, there is currently no single source of information for young people who are at risk of homelessness.

The services the new helpline provides will be as broad and diverse as the issue itself - each caller will get a plan to help with their housing needs but also mental health support, education and training and family counselling.

This vital service is completely funded by public donations and will cut through the confusion and red tape - giving young people a simple way to find help at a time when they are in most danger.

This is by no means the solution to the crisis that looms over our young people in this country but the more we are able to offer to young people, the more chance we have of protecting them. Protecting them against issues including sexual and physical abuse, grooming, knife crime, gang culture, radicalisation, addiction and mental health problems.

Intervening early and decisively by providing the right support for those in crisis can end youth homelessness. Today, with the launch of the Centrepoint Helpline, we take the first step towards realising our ambitious goal: to end youth homelessness for individuals before it has even begun.

About the Centrepoint Helpline

The Centrepoint Helpline number is: 0808 800 0661

The Centrepoint Helpline will be staffed from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and is free to call. It is for any young person aged 16 to 25 who is worried about homelessness.