New research calls for urgent action to prevent and end rising youth homelessness

Thursday, 22 October 2020 - 10:00am

With reports of shocking rises in youth homelessness, our new research report, We Have A Voice, Follow Our Lead, shines a light on the boundless potential and resilience of young people facing homelessness and calls for urgent action to address the system and policies currently failing them. 

Blog written by Homeless Link's Jennie Corbett (Policy Manager) and Lauren Page-Hammick (Innovation and Good Practice Manager for Youth Homelessness)

Co-producing the research with Youth Voice, in early 2020, Homeless Link’s research team spoke with 45 young people across England about their experiences of homelessness, their aspirations and what helped them to navigate the challenges they faced. These conversations provided a powerful picture of young people’s resilience and strength, and how their experiences shaped their journeys into adulthood. They also cast a shocking light on how our current systems and policies – from mental health and welfare, to homelessness and child protection – can get in the way of young people’s realisation of their goals, undermine their confidence and, ultimately, fail them when they are needed most.

“The council couldn’t help me, I had nowhere to go so I climbed a tree so people couldn’t attack me and slept outside for a few weeks. I remembered to from Hunger Games” - Sophie, Midlands

While these conversations happened before Covid-19, it is clear that our findings are more important than ever. Recent data point to a growing crisis of youth homelessness as we head into winter. Figures from CHAIN show a more than 80% increase in young people rough sleeping in London between April and June 2020, compared to the same time last year. At the same time, youth homelessness helplines run by Centrepoint and akt reported a doubling in calls during the COVID-19 lockdown, many from young people trapped in abusive households. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only worsened the systemic drivers of youth homelessness that our report identified.

Young people told us how they were unable to access local authority support, how sporadic and unreliable support from social services and other agencies had left them socially isolated and excluded. As a result, young people are entering homelessness services with unaddressed trauma and support needs, low self-confidence, little trust and limited healthy relationships. Our research also highlights the crucial importance of prevention, and the impact that a failure to identify and respond to young people at risk of homelessness has on their lives.

Young people have been conspicuously absent from the policy debate on emergency homelessness measures since Covid-19. Indeed, available data indicates that young people have been frequently neglected by ‘Everyone In’ measures, which largely targeted known and visible rough sleepers and often failed to offer age-appropriate emergency accommodation.

Young people are capable and passionate agents for change. Our research shows not only how this potential is being constricted by a system that is not meeting their needs, but also points to solutions and celebrates what has worked. It is time to recognise the impact Covid-19 is having on young people’s lives, how it is exacerbating insecure and unsafe living situations, and act.

It is imperative that Government and local areas place a renewed focus on tackling youth homelessness and consider the needs of young people in their transition plans and emergency measures going forward. In addition, our report makes a number of recommendations to Government in order to safeguard the aspirations and unlock the potential of young people who are currently living in insecurity and fear. These include:

  • Develop a cross-departmental youth homelessness strategy that focuses on prevention, youth participation and multi-agency support. Like the current Rough Sleeping Strategy, it should give the fight against youth homelessness the profile and urgency it deserves.
  • Immediately bring forward plans to extend the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) exemption for homeless under-25s and care leavers. Match the Universal Credit standard allowance for under-25s to the amount over-25s receive, while maintaining the COVID-19 uplift of £20 per week.
  • Provide local areas with long-term capital and revenue investment into a range of supported housing options for young people that recognise the diversity of their needs and experiences.

We Have a Voice, Follow Our Lead is funded by The Blagrave Trust and LandAid.

Young and Homeless 2020 - Report and Executive Summary

Our Young & Homeless: We have a Voice, Follow our Lead 2020 is the first qualitative research report in the series. This report explores the challenges young people face when they become homeless, the support available to them and areas that need to be improved.

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Molly Zakra

Researcher

Molly Zakra is a Researcher at Homeless Link