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Government action needed to address youth homelessness rise

March 09 2011
Young people face disproportionate levels of homelessness

One of Scotland's best-known advice services has warned that young people are facing 'disproportionate' levels of homeless and is calling on the Scottish Government to take action.

Citizen's Advice Scotland's (CAS) report - Being Young, Being Heard - released last month, details the extent to which young people have been affected by the recession.

Today's young people might be known as the 'Peter Pan generation', accused of clinging to their adolescence for fear of what the future holds. But the report shows that in fact many have had to grow up far too fast.

The research claims that youth homelessness is a growing problem, which has increased by 40 per cent between 2007 and 2009. The Citizen's Advice data also showed that nearly a third of homeless applications made in Scotland are made by a single person under the age of 25 years. Fifty young people applied as homeless every day in 2009.

The most common reasons for homelessness amongst young people, say the report's authors, involve the breakdown of family relationships, which can come from long-term conflict or even result in violence.

According to CAS, homelessness exacerbates other problems many young people are facing including mental health problems and drug or alcohol misuse. In addition it holds people back from accessing employment, education or training.

The survey also highlighted the 'most visible' effect of the recession on young Scots including unemployment and redundancies. The statistics show that the unemployment rate for young people is about 20 per cent.

Citizen's Advice Scotland's chief executive, Lucy McTernan, said: "Citizen's Advice Bureau advisers have been reporting for some time that young people were experiencing real problems, so when we began this survey we expected the results to show quite a lot of suffering.

"But frankly we've been taken aback by just how bleak the picture is. There is real anger and despair out there.

"To be young in Scotland today is to worry about whether you will be able to get a job or a home.

"It is essential that the Scottish Government and local authorities provide suitable support and accommodation for those who become homeless, and commit to addressing the causes of homelessness for young people."

Others working with homeless young people said the issues were complex but often boiled down to a simple problem.

Lizzie Adrain, a development worker for Care and Share, a homelessness charity based in Ayr, said: "Poverty is the biggest issue. Homelessness, addiction and antisocial behaviour are all symptoms of poverty."

Care and Share conducted a recent survey, asking young homeless people how they feel about their situation: "Despair," said one woman in summing up her feelings. "My money has been cut in half due to a silly interview. I'm in crisis and I can't live on it - I'm skint. It just gets worse. Where is the help and support?"

And the call for the Scottish Government to do more to support young people who have become homeless is now greater than ever with CAS claiming it is essential that the Scottish Government and local authorities provide suitable support and accommodation for those who become homeless. It should also commit to addressing the causes of homelessness for young people, the advice service insists.

In response, Holyrood claims to have put new policies in place to 'prevent and alleviate homelessness and to ensure that every homeless person gets help according to their needs.'

Housing Minister Alex Neil said: "The Scottish Government and its partner COSLA are not, and never will be, complacent about tackling and preventing the trauma of homelessness.

"With the housing options approach, prevention activity is the main driver, which makes sense economically and socially, and is in line with the Government's broader principles of early intervention."

It remains to be seen if it will deliver on its promise so that the fight to eradicate the problem of homelessness can progress.

To read the report in full, visit the CAS website: or for help and advice visit your local Citizen's Advice Bureau.

Stories from the trenches - the people behind the numbers

•  One young man, 22, from the north of Scotland, has significant addiction problems, including heroin and alcohol. He also suffers from depression, anxiety and has a history of self-harm. But he has been assessed as not being in priority need of homelessness accommodation.

•  In the east of Scotland, one young woman, fleeing domestic abuse has been told to vacate the temporary accommodation that was her sanctuary. Her future is uncertain.

•  Another 20-year-old man, based in the south of Scotland, has been sleeping rough in a local park for three months. He is struggling to access benefits because he has no permanent address.

•  A 23-year-old mother of a three-year-old daughter has been given an unfurnished flat after making a homeless application. But she has no money for furniture. She has been refused a budgeting loan, a crisis loan, and a community care grant.