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Why record numbers of young people are being forced to live on the streets

Last week, two leading youth homelessness charities, Centrepoint and New Horizon Youth Centre called on the government to ‘make good’ on its promise to support all those experiencing homelessness.

Of particular concern is the sharp increase in young people who have been forced onto the streets since the start of the pandemic.

and a problem which Centrepoint’s research had already predicted, with calls from young people affected by homelessness up 50% in October compared to the previous year. Many more are ‘hidden homeless’, surviving in unstable situations such as ‘sofa surfing’ to avoid living on the streets, unaccounted for in official statistics.

In conjunction with wider figures on rough sleeping published by the National Audit Office (NAO) in January, this paints a grim picture of the UKs escalating homelessness crisis, and the impact of the pandemic on those most at risk. The NAOs report concluded that there was an overwhelming discrepancy between the government’s annual ‘snapshot’ figures, which in Autumn 2019 estimated there to be 4,266 people sleeping on the streets on any given night, compared to the 33,000 people who were brought into emergency accommodation via its Everyone In scheme.

Lockdown has had a particularly devastating impact on young people, reflected in the disproportionate increase in under 25s affected by homelessness during this period. New Horizon has seen double the number of young women seeking help compared to this time last year.

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, says:

‘We think there are two key factors which have amounted to a perfect storm; one is the increase in youth unemployment, particularly over the last 12 months. We know from calls to our Centrepoint Helpline that many young people who have found themselves in difficulty, or have already become homeless, have recently lost their jobs. This is particularly true of the retail sector and hospitality, which a disproportionate number of young people, and probably more young women, have previously worked in.

‘We have also heard from a lot of young people who were previously ‘sofa surfing’, staying with extended family or friends, that their hosts have been less willing or able to accommodate during the pandemic, with heightened concerns of Covid transmission.

‘Where clearly anyone who is rough sleeping is at risk in terms of both their physical and mental health, there is always a particular concern around the safety of young women on the streets – we know from our own research that this can lead to physical and sometimes sexual assault, and while it is vital that we get all young people in, it can be particularly dangerous for young women.’

The Everyone In programme, launched by the government in March 2020, has been widely praised for its positive impact, offering temporary accommodation to thousands, irrespective of immigration status and other factors normally restricting recourse to public funds. Yet despite accumulative circumstances, from economic fallout to a new, highly transmissible variant of Coronavirus, the scheme has not been reinstated.

Homelessness is an ongoing issue, the extent of which has been magnified by the scale of those the scheme has helped, and support must be maintained – not only to ensure that those housed temporarily can move forward to longer term stability, but to reduce the ‘continued flow of rough sleepers onto the streets over the summer and autumn of 2020’, as described in the NAOs latest report.

Centrepoint is one of several charities emphasising the need to focus funds specifically towards the needs of young people, who face a particular set of challenges when faced with homelessness, and who are constituting an increasing proportion of those forced to live on the streets.

‘We have had some positive discussions with both government ministers and mayors about this issue, to focus some of the increased funding that we’ve seen over the last 12 months on youth homelessness services. Younger people have distinct needs – often when they become homeless, it’s their first experience of living away from home, and at that stage they may not have the skills to get by, particularly if they have had to leave home quickly,’ adds Mr Noblet.

‘In terms of residential accommodation in our hostels, that does mean having extra staff in place to make sure that young people not only have a safe place to stay, but that when they are with us, they are able to increase their life skills, such as budgeting and learning how to cook.

‘Some of the extra funding that was made available falls short compared to that which was put in at the beginning of lockdown. We don’t want to see the flow of investment getting people into emergency accommodation to slow down, just because there has been this move to get those already in emergency accommodation into longer term housing.

‘We need to do both, otherwise we risk a new wave of rough sleepers. We think it’s really important that those young people, for example those who became homeless over the Christmas period, don’t end up with a lower standard of care from the government than the people who first found themselves in that situation 12 months ago,’ he says.

Photo Credit – StockSnaps (Pixabay)

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