Supporting young people with multiple and complex needs

Monday, 22 January 2018 - 12:04pm

Our one-day national youth homelessness conference will further explore the latest approaches to supporting young people. 

Young man sitting on a bed in a hostel

Depaul UK is a values-based organisation. We believe in the potential of people. This is how we at Depaul UK approach the work we do with young people living in and being supported by our services across the country every day.

Depaul, along with many other organisations, has felt the impact of public funding cuts. However, we have equally been early adopters of new and innovative opportunities, including using social investment to work with young people to help them achieve and sustain housing and employment outcomes.

We are currently closing down a service called Your Chance. Ordinarily, the closure of a service is tinged with sadness – the loss of a contract, the “TUPE” of staff and another cut in funding. But we always knew that 31 December 2017 would be the day Your Chance would end, so we have been working backwards from that date for the last three years. Although, we had not realised what an impact Your Chance would have on the lives of the 216 young people we worked with throughout the project and how it would change the way we work as an organisation going forward.

Your Chance was set up on 1 January 2015, as one of seven Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Fair Chance Fund Social Impact Bond (SIB) programmes. The technical descriptor for the programme was to offer a new opportunity for young people who fulfilled all of the following criteria:

  • aged 18 to 24
  • NEET (Not in employment education or training)
  • homeless but not in priority need under homelessness legislation
  • were unable to be accommodated in a supported housing scheme due to previous evictions, security issues, needs were too high/complex for supported accommodation, and
  • lack of specialist supported accommodation.

In the areas that we delivered the service: Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale and the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London, this descriptor fitted a cohort of young people who were well known to the housing-leads, children’s services and substance use services. These young people had been known to services for years and were rattling around the system. They lacked accommodation, the support to go with it and had very few options left open to them.

At Depaul, we relished the opportunity to work differently with this group of young people and chose to adopt a Housing First approach. When the accommodation wasn’t right, we moved with the young person and stuck with them for three years. We were struck by the effect the different housing and employment markets had on our work. Even within the three Greater Manchester areas, we had to adopt different strategies, depending on the buoyancy of the local employment market or the harsh reality of housing availability.

Depaul’s operating costs were funded entirely by social investors for the three-year period. The team worked with young people on achieving evidenced-housing, education, training and employment outcomes on a 100 percent payment-by-results basis. All of our referrals came through local authorities or their authorised agency. No cherry picking here! We turned away just two referrals due to age. Of the 216 young people on the programme, 35 percent had been in the care system, 54 percent had involvement in the criminal justice system and 70 percent had a mental health support needs.

In total, 192 of the young people sustained their accommodation for over 18 months while on the programme. An amazing achievement, given their starting points, which included rough sleeping in Manchester’s tent city and experiencing multiple evictions. 91 moved into education or training and 61 started work. As always though, it is the softer stories that show the impact of a service on individuals. One young man with autistic spectrum disorder and a love of bicycles was helped to access and sustain an apprenticeship in a bike shop, which turned into a job and independence.

A group of 10 young people supported by Your Chance staff, volunteered and fundraised feverishly for 18 months to raise £10,000 to fund a life-changing trip to Slovakia for a week. The group worked at Depaul’s night shelter in Bratislava, sorting seven tonnes of donated clothing. They learnt about homelessness and life in Eastern Europe, walked in the mountains, cycled and toasted marshmallows around campfires. At the end of their trip, they collectively decided to donate the remaining £1,000 balance of their fundraising to the night shelter’s fundraising appeal to buy a minibus.

When the young people presented back to us their experiences of Slovakia at our International Ambassadors ceremony, it was not the planning or the fundraising, or going on an aeroplane for the first time that meant so much to them - and it wasn’t even the camaraderie or facing their own fears! What they articulated as having the biggest impact on them as individuals was having the opportunity to do something for people, who they perceived to be worse off than themselves.

When you work with young people as selfless and empathic as that, it isn’t hard to believe in the potential of people.

Talk To Us

Alexia Murphy

Alexia Murphy

Executive Director of Services at Depaul UK

Alexia Murphy is the Executive Director of Services at Depaul UK. Before joining Depaul UK, Alexia led on the Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign to improve services for homeless women in the UK.

Twitter: @DepaulUK