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Much too young

July 24 2018
A member of NHYC's youth team helps a client locate the emergency shelter they've been referred to © NHYC A member of NHYC's youth team helps a client locate the emergency shelter they've been referred to © NHYC
At what point does a family row leave you homeless – and what can you do if that happens?

At what point does a family row leave you homeless – and what can you do if that happens? Here’s how youth centres can help.


In a nutshell

Lack of knowledge about advice services is one reason 16–25-year-olds make up a large part of London's hidden homeless population (GLA)

The report Hidden homelessness in London found that only one in five young Londoners present to a local authority for help. (GLA)

“A lot of young people come here stressed, anxious, or frightened,” says Owen Duff, sitting in the bright surroundings of New Horizon Youth Centre, King’s Cross. “They quite quickly realise that there is a community here – of both young people and staff – who they can rely on and get to know, and who will support them.”

New Horizon has worked with young people since 1967, when it was set up to help those involved in drug misuse in the West End. Now, it assists thousands of 16-21-year-olds who are rough sleeping or some of London’s hidden homeless.

“We’re a drop-in centre that offers anything young people might need – from accommodation to jobs, to mental health support and seeing a nurse,” says Owen. “We address all those needs as well as feeding people and letting them shower and store their stuff.”

Seven days a week, the Centre welcomes visitors from across London and, increasingly young people from overseas who are seeking asylum-seekers in the UK. Many of these young people have left home due to relationship breakdowns or, for the large number who are LGBTIQ+, intolerance or abuse.

Apprenticeships, work placements, short courses, and various support groups and advice sessions at New Horizon bring together a range of services that are usually scattered and, particularly for young people, difficult to access.

“We do activities that are enjoyable and fun (e.g. classes in cooking, debating, music production, and communications skills), but we’re also engaging with young people to get them thinking about the issues they need to address,” adds Owen.

Though specialising in support for homeless young people with complex needs, New Horizon has always had a general youth work approach which sets it apart from local authorities and homeless charities. “Many of our young people would not necessarily identify as homeless. Some are more likely to turn up here than present to a local authority for help,” says Owen.

Youth clubs may also play an important role in identifying those who go under the radar of local authorities. According to Dot Horne, director of the Edinburgh Youth Cafe, many do important work dealing with issues early on – calling it youth provision rather than homelessness prevention. “The Edinburgh Youth Cafe is not a homelessness charity, but we’re open to everybody, and especially those who are not involved in the system [through work, education, or government support]. It’s a 'place to go' for young people.”

Situated in the centre of Edinburgh, the organisation has been working to prevent youth homelessness for more than 20 years. Dot thinks that recently the authorities have got better at responding to 16–17-year-olds who approach the council for support. “But it’s the ones who don’t present who we try and help. Many have chosen to leave home for a number of different reasons. We go over everything with them: tenancies, rights and responsibilities, personal safety, loneliness.”

Dot adds that many of these individuals are care leavers, who find themselves having to live independently from the age of 16.

Less specialised youth clubs have the potential to do preventative work for those under the age of 16. A 2018 report by Homeless Link, Young and Homeless, showed that those working in the homelessness charity sector cited a lack of early intervention during childhood and adolescence. Problems unaddressed at an early stage become more complex by the time young people present at homelessness services.

The increase in the complexity of young people’s needs, in particular, has been attributed to the reduction in generic youth open door services like youth clubs, prompted by local authority cuts.

Across 16 London boroughs, the number of places providing drop-in youth services fell from 143 in 2011 to 109 in 2017.

That’s one reason Dot says that: “The work being done by youth centres, clubs, and cafes has definitely gone unrecognised. The link between youth services and youth homelessness is a conversation that needs to be had.”


25 or under?


• New Horizon Youth Centre 68 Chalton Street, King’s Cross NW1 1JR Tel: 020 7388 5560 Mon-Sun, 10.30am-4pm
• Avenues Youth Project 3-7 Third Avenue W10 4RS Tel: 020 8969 9552 Tues 4-6.30pm, Wed, Thurs 3.30- 5.30pm, Fri 6.45-9pm, Sat 1.30-4pm
• Salmon Youth Centre 43 Old Jamaica Road SE16 4TE Tel: 020 7237 3788 Mon-Sun, 10am-4pm
• Mosaic LGBT Youth Centre Tel: 0800 161 5428 for address Mon 10am-6pm, Tues, Thurs 10am-5pm, Wed 12pm-12am, Fri 10am- 8pm


• The Clock Tower Sanctuary Wenlock House, 41-43 North Street, Brighton BN1 1RH Tel: 01273 722353 Mon-Sat, 11am-3pm


• Edinburgh City Youth Cafe 11-15 Vennel, Edinburgh EH1 2HU Tel: 0131 229 1797 Mon, Wed, Fri 10am-10pm, Tues, Thurs 10am-5pm