Preventing a lost generation

Tuesday, 9 September 2014 - 12:45pm

Our 2014 round of research into youth homelessness runs until 26 September. As your survey responses come in, we reflect on what has changed since our first Young and Homeless report three years ago.

Photograph: Alexandre Dulaunoy

In 2011, our first report on youth homelessness highlighted a crisis in England, with around 400 under 25s seeking help every day.

We uncovered a significant homelessness problem, most often triggered by family breakdown. We found that many young people were out of work, often with debt, health and substance misuse issues compounding to make leaving homelessness behind even harder.

The research also found that the support available to homeless under 25s was also under pressure. Half of the councils we surveyed planned to close youth services due to reduced budgets.

None of this was good news. Evidence tells us that if you’re young, become homeless and don’t get the right help, you are at greater risk of developing complex problems and becoming homeless again in later life.

Better economic times

Now that we have launched our research for the next Young and Homeless report, it is worth reflecting on what has changed.

The economy has improved over the past few years.  Back in the winter of 2011, the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds had hit one million. While the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) stood at 1.16m. The latest Government figures indicate that unemployment among young people has fallen to 767,000, and the number of NEETs is 955,000.

The picture is slowly improving for young people, with the potential that demand for help with homelessness could also lessen over time.

Improvements in practice

In addition, our annual research points to improvements in local governments policy towards homeless 16 and 17 year olds. More than nine in ten councils now have a joint protocol between Housing and Children's Services to ensure homeless 16 and 17 year olds receive the care they are owed under the Children Act 1989.

We’ve also seen the support available in some communities improve.  For example, some local authorities have increased the availability of emergency accommodation by adopting the ‘night stop’ approach. These services use trained volunteer families to offer young people a bed and support in a domestic environment.

Local authorities in a few areas, in partnership with charities, have also adopted the ‘Positive Pathways’ model. Developed with our member St. Basils and advocated by Government, the model gives councils a clear framework to prevent young people from becoming homeless and sets out the services and support needed to help under 25s who have no place to call home.

Causes for concern

But while there are signs of hope there are some concerning trends. The proportion of young people who need the support of homeless services is on the rise. We estimate that more than half of clients using homeless accommodation projects are now under 25 years old.

There are also signs that people seeking help with homelessness have increasingly complex needs, so if young homeless people don’t get the right help, they could face a bleak future.

Prevention, prevention, prevention

Preventing young people from becoming homeless in the first place is critical. Our first report highlighted that, on average, councils were able to prevent homelessness in just over half of cases. Key to this was providing effective mediation services to keep people in their homes and having emergency accommodation services in place.

However, the success of local authority efforts to prevent homelessness has fallen since then. In 2012 they prevented homelessness in 46% of cases; in 2013 it was just 22%.

This is worrying. Prevention must be given sufficient attention and investment, not only in order to stop the serious harm that homelessness causes but also because it saves money in the long term.

How you can help

Our previous surveys have not only resulted in a better understanding of youth homelessness but have also directly informed the work of the Department of Communities and Local Government, which funds the survey, and other Government departments.  

Last year, the results fed into the development of the Government’s Fair Chance Fund and Platform for Life funding, both of which aim to help young people who become homeless.

We can only address the problem of youth homelessness if we fully understand it. That is why the data and information you provide is so vital. Without it we will not be able to advocate for solutions that can really make a difference.

As our research team starts work on the Young and Homeless Survey 2014, I urge any homeless service that supports young people to take part.

The better we are able to gauge the extent of the issue, the more we can work with policy makers and services to prevent young people becoming homeless, and make sure those who do become homeless today get the support they need to have a better future.