Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656
Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760
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Young people need services designed specially for them. But too often that's not an option
To many of you it’ll be a familiar story: Danielle, from Edinburgh, was 16 years old when she first became homeless, after her relationship with her parents broke down.
There was no supported accommodation available, so she was sent to a hostel, where the services offered to young people were, she says, “a joke”. Desperate to get out, she applied to be housed in a 'less desirable’ tower-block flat, which her support worker convinced her she was more likely to be offered.
“After about three months I was given a tenancy that I was never going to be able to hold down,” she says. “Why? Well, I don’t really think it’s a great idea to give a 16-year-old girl with issues a flat by herself in a multi-storey block in a bad area. Within months the local young team [gang] had taken it over. They put burning paper through the letterbox because I wouldn’t let them party there.”
Homeless once again, she was sent to a mixed-age women’s unit. Nobody spoke to her; once a woman staggered through the door who had been stabbed in the neck. But one resident in her thirties noticed how lonely and frightened Danielle was. She gained her trust, provided “lots and yummy, yummy drugs” and before Danielle realised what she was happening, she was working as a prostitute at her behest. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” she says.
“It makes me so angry when I hear people saying it’s easy money. You’re selling your soul. It’s seen as an option for some homeless women; you can make some money, give yourself a chance to get out of this. But it never happens.”
It was then that she was put in touch with the Edinburgh-based Rock Trust, which works with young people aged 16 to 25, and was given a place in one of their supported flats. And things began, slowly, to turn around.
“The workers really cared,” Danielle remembers. “They had such vested interests in the young people they worked with.”
“I felt safer, less worried about everything. There was even a flat meal that we had together. And there were responsible adults around who could help you put things in perspective. I had been feeling like my life was just over, and I didn’t feel like that there.”
Life was still not easy; suffering from post-traumatic stress and in the grip of serious addiction issues, Danielle had lots to deal with. Today she’s 24 years old, due to give birth in six days and currently homeless again as a result of domestic violence.
But she’s also in temporary accommodation (“shout out to Edinburgh City Council for making sure I got good temp”) and determined things are going to get better. “Without the support of the Rock Trust, I think I would have genuinely lost it,” she says. “They have grounded me. There’s something so powerful about having people who believe in you.”
Looking back, Danielle is clear what she needed to keep her safe and help her move on: services designed specially for young people.
But if you’ve struggled to access services like this, it would be no great surprise because, says Rock Trust chief executive Kate Polson, they are thin on the ground. And what’s more, cuts to funding mean those that do exist are under threat.
“There is a lot less money and that means that there is a trend for local authorities to buy in big, general contracts for homelessness services, which deal with everyone from 16 to 60,” she explains.
“It means that support work is offered to young people by those who are not trained to know what it means to be a young person.”
At worst, this means that young people like Danielle can be exploited and may spiral further into additions and mental health issues. And then there are the practical problems. “In general services, they are not offered those key life skills that can make a difference between being able to hold down a tenancy and losing it,” Polson notes.
“One young man phoned to say his cooker didn’t work. He said it had never really worked. It turned out he was trying to light it; it was an electric oven.
"Young people need to be taught to cook, problem-solve and budget. We are lucky in Edinburgh that the council seem committed to providing services for young people but that is not the case across the country.”
Meanwhile, the number of young people looking for help continues to rise; the latest report on youth homelessness from Homeless Link found that 52 percent of those seeking help from homelessness services were under 25. Yet only one in five get the help they need. As workers point out, you will not ask for help if you do not believe you will get it, instead resorting to sofa-surfing – and remaining hidden from the official stats.
Helen Mathie, Homeless Link’s head of policy, is clear that young people experiencing homelessness need support services “tailored and personalised to them”.
She shares Polson’s fear that youth-specific services are under threat. “It is a concern,” she says. "Many smaller services do offer very specialist provision locally, which can make a real difference to young people’s lives.”
Rents stats show 41 per cent of accommodation services in England had seen their funding reduced in the past year.
But some local authorities work differently. Since November 2010, Birmingham City Council has had a partnership with award-winning youth charity St Basil's to deliver its Youth Hub; a service that all 16–17-year-olds and all single young people under 25 must go to for help with housing.
The idea is to create a joined-up service that gives young people access not only to housing but also to independent advice, mediation services, counselling and a range of other projects and courses.
Jim Crawshaw, head of homelessness at Birmingham Council – which sees over 4,000 young people every year – admits it’s not perfect. But, he says: “Young people here are not passed from pillar to post.
“By working in partnership, we build in the fact that someone is there to advocate for them. People can open up to staff from St Basils and possibly disclose information that will help us to help them better.”
Back in Edinburgh, Danielle’s support worker is trying to ensure she finds a good home for her and her soon-to-be-born baby girl. “I’m giving life to her and she’s giving me my life back,” says Danielle. “It’s not just about me any more.”
She’s dreaming of a future where one day she’ll go back to college and then work in youth homelessness herself. “If I can help just one young person that makes a difference.” She’s beginning to believe in herself.
• For advice on what you are entitled to if you are homeless and under 25, contact your local young people's service (listings at www.thepavement.org.uk/services.php) or visit Shelter's website (for England; for Scotland) to find out more about your rights when you are homeless.
Need to know
So what’s the issue?
In England, 52 per cent of those who used homelessness services last year were under 25. This figure was just under a third in Scotland. In London, one in 25 children has no permanent home (in total 72,000 young people), a rise of 25 per cent in three years.
According to Homeless Link’s 2014 data, 36 per cent of homeless young people are those who can no longer stay in the family house due to relationship breakdown, 40 per cent have experienced family violence or abuse, 13 per cent are offenders and 11 per cent are care leavers.
Research by Crisis and Depaul UK shows young homeless people often first experienced homelessness at a very young age, with 35 per cent becoming homeless before the age of 15.
Around half young homeless people were not in education, employment or training last year, and just over half have been or are excluded or suspended from school.
Young people with experience of homelessness are also more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles: 27 per cent eat less than 2 meals a day, 64 per cent smoke every day, almost half use cannabis. They are twice more likely to be suffering from depressionand one in four suffers from poor mental health.
And how easy is it to get help?
Figures suggest less than one in five young people gets help from their local authority. So perhaps that’s why fewer young people are approaching the council but instead turning to charities.
Yet seven out of 10 of those had to turn a young people away at some point because they were not able to meet their needs.
Moreover, half of councils admit to using B&Bs “often” or “occasionally” because there is a lack of emergency accommodation.
And on a positive note?
Local authorities have increased their access to prevention initiatives, with 92 per cent now carrying out home visits, and a third of charities have now increased the services that they offer young people.
Most areas (88 per cent) also have joint working protocols between housing and social work services.
Research also shows that those who know their rights, are more likely to get the help they need. So get clued up!
Do you know of a young person's service that should be listed in The Pavement? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan-Feb : STREET FOOD
- Issue 124 : Jan-Feb : STREET FOOD
- Issue 123 : Nov-Dec 2019 : HOSTELS
- Issue 122 : Sept-Oct 2019 : DEATH ON THE STREETS
- Issue 121 : July-Aug 2019 : INVISIBLE YOUTH
- Issue 120 : May-June 2019 : RECOVERY
- Issue 119 : Mar-Apr 2019 : WELLBEING
- Issue 118 : Jan-Feb 2019 : WORKING HOMELESS
- Issue 117 : Nov-Dec 2018 : HER STORY
- Issue 116 : Sept-Oct 2018 : TOILET TALK
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