How young people with experiences of homelessness inform our research

Friday, 30 June 2017 - 10:45am

In advance of our 2017 Young and Homeless survey being sent out later this summer, Homeless Link met with a number of young people who have personally experienced homelessness. 

young man looking sad

All too often research takes place ‘about’ and not ‘with’ the people who are the focus of a study. Last week, 20 young people from the National Youth Reference Group (NYRG) came together to advise Homeless Link on the design and development of our Young and Homeless research. The NYRG is made up of young people aged 16-25 from communities across England who have first-hand experience of homelessness.

Our sixth Young and Homeless study (jointly funded by Land Aid and Comic Relief) surveys local authorities and support services, interviews young people, and examines case studies.  The project explores the causes and nature of youth homelessness, the available support, and best practice. The survey itself is the only national annual data set on youth homelessness, and provides critical evidence to inform local and national government responses.

In the course of our consultation with the NYRG, youth advisors scrutinised the surveys and provided invaluable insight into three key study topics, set out below. By incorporating this feedback into the research design, Homeless Link aims to ensure that the findings will affect change and address the issues which most concern young people. 

1. Causes of Homelessness 

Research has repeatedly demonstrated a breakdown in family relationships is the leading cause of youth homelessness. Our 2015 report showed 47% of young people to have become homeless after their parents/care-givers were no longer able, or willing, to accommodate them. In this consultation, the young advisors highlighted that the statistic fails to incorporate many of the complex reasons why young people leave their homes. The advisors felt that family, poverty, changes to welfare benefits, and young people’s difficulties in accessing employment, were some of the key factors leading to family relationship breakdowns. Following this feedback, Young and Homeless, through qualitative interviews with young people, will explore the key factors that underscore family breakdowns.

2. Prevention

Although under-researched, mediation can - where appropriate - be a key factor in preventing youth homelessness. While some young advisors felt that mediation could help young people make smoother transitions into independent living, many participants reported, based on personal experiences that this intervention had not helped them to remain in the family home. Some of the key factors affecting the success of mediation were said to be: its introduction at crisis points, lack of early intervention, and geographical variations as to its availability.

In response to feedback on the significant variations in the nature and outcomes of mediation, the Young and Homeless project will investigate and highlight best practice for this type of intervention.

3. Access and availability of services

Some youth advisors addressed young homeless people’s difficulties in accessing mental health services and stated there to be a lack of services specifically designed for young people. Some of the youth advisors drew on their own experiences in describing the impact of this lack of services on their emotional, mental, physical and material well-being. As stated by one young person, ‘If I didn’t have my support network, God knows what would have happened.’

In response to this feedback on access to mental health services, Young and Homeless will explore the availability of mental health services and how changes could be affected.

The young advisors incorporated the above topics in a list of questions for the qualitative interviews with young people. The group will reconvene in December to draw up a list of practical recommendations for policy makers and practitioners based on the findings of the report.

If you are interested in the process of involving ‘experts by experience’ in research, you are welcome to join us for our next research forum on 10th July 2017, which will address this topic. For more information, please contact Jennifer.Harris@homelesslink.org.uk

Young and homeless 2015

Our fifth annual Young & Homeless report explores the reasons young people became homeless in 2015, the support available to them, and areas that need to be improved.

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Jennifer Harris

Jennifer Harris

Research Officer

Jennifer is our research officer, planning and conducting qualitative and quantitative research projects to contribute to the evidence base around homelessness and to inform policy and service change. 

Telephone: 020 7840 4418
Email: Jennifer.Harris@homelesslink.org.uk